At a London conference hosted by the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) last week, doctors raised concern over the connection between drug-fueled parties that are behind an increased spread of HIV within urban areas of Europe.
IAPAC president, Jose Zuniga, reported by Reuters, characterized chemsex as a “challenge of proportions we cannot fully comprehend at this time.”
Chemsex refers to using drugs such as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) or crystallized methamphetamines as a sexual enhancement. Both drugs can increase libido and lower inhibitions, allowing for extended sexual experiences., but come at a high cost.
Parties featuring chemsex are often promoted via hookup apps, using terms such as “high and horny” or “party and play.”
A variant of this scene is “slamsex,” where users self-inject drugs, versus snorting or swallowing medications. This only adds to concerns of HIV infection if tainted needles are shared with other partiers.
As a result, doctors are seing an increase in HIV cases among gay and bisexual men as well as transgender women, even as worldwide rates drop. Last year, London-based researchers explored the link between chemsex and sexually transmitted infections (STI), finding that those who participated were more likely to be be diagnosed with a new HIV infection, hepatitis C, or STI.
One doctor present at the conference, however, warned that chemsex parties are not only seen in the UK.
“It’s not just a UK thing,” Ignacio Labayen de Inza told Reuters. “It’s in Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Kiev, Moscow, Helsinki — and in many of what people call ‘gay destinations’, like Ibiza, Torremolinos, the Canary Islands.”
de Inza warns that, ironically, the increase in medications that can help manage HIV are helping to fuel the rise in risk-taking.
“People are not scared any more of HIV,” said de Inza. “Many people I see say they think ‘it’s only a matter of time anyway, so I might as well have some fun’.”