Sunshine Recorder

Link: Life After Death

Michael Harris’s beautiful personal essay “Life after Death,” published in The Walrus (Sept 2011), crystallizes the history of HIV through the lens of one who has grown up with the virus as an ever-present force. Harris moves deftly through the years and the changing stories of HIV: the shift from death sentence to chronic condition as treatments improved; the modern-day shock he experienced when he realized “that people still suffered, even died, from this virus”; and how fiercely young gay men have tried to put the plague of AIDS behind them.

Sam grew up in an Alberta hamlet, a place of no consequence to anyone but those fortunate enough to have been born there. The kind of place where you raise two fingers off the steering wheel in greeting when you pass another car on the road. Sam was a good kid, though a hurting one. He had journals filled with dark confessions. He had legs covered with scars from the time a pot of boiling water had spilled onto his three-year-old body. He was also gay and needed to get to a city. By his twenty-eighth birthday, having rolled through a few towns already, he found himself in Vancouver and searching for love. One night in October 2001, he let a man inside him for ten seconds before muttering, “Hey, you should probably put on a condom.” Symptoms showed up almost immediately. Sam’s hands and feet became swollen. His tongue got itchy. His glands ballooned. There was dandruff in his golden brown eyebrows. He flipped through a book called The New Joy of Gay Sex and learned that after HIV enters your body, there are seven typical symptoms. He had all seven. For the next eight months, he sat with his self-diagnosis, unwilling to get tested. When he finally went to the clinic on Davie Street, a nurse gave him his results and said, “Do you need a hug?” […]

I’m the same age as the epidemic. By my first birthday, eight young gay guys in New York had developed purple tumours on their skin, which turned out to be a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Those boys had AIDS, though there wasn’t a name for it yet. That year, 1981, an unknowable number of men slept (shamefully or shamelessly) with each other and unwittingly consigned themselves to early deaths. That year, before the tears and the placards, before the suicides, the broken families, and the funerals, an inferno began its relentless unfolding. (One of the most insidious characteristics of HIV is that it can take years before its effects are felt, which leaves one plenty of time to unknowingly pass it along.) That year, my future best friends and I, seemingly far removed from AIDS and from each other, learned to crawl in the undestroyed homes of our parents.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: The Success of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

I [Richard Branson] visited Portugal, as one of the Global Drug Commissioners, to congratulate them on the success of their drug policies over the last 10 years. Ten years ago the Portuguese Government responded to widespread public concern over drugs by rejecting a “war on drugs” approach and instead decriminalized drug possession and use. It further rebuffed convention by placing the responsibility for decreasing drug demand as well as managing dependency under the Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Justice. With this, the official response towards drug-dependent persons shifted from viewing them as criminals to treating them as patients.

Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the problem far better than virtually every other Western country does. Compared to the European Union and the US, Portugal drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal has the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the EU: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%, Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%. Drug use in older teens also declined. Life time heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003. Death related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. The number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and the considerable money saved on enforcement allowed for increase funding of drug – free treatment as well. Property theft has dropped dramatically (50% - 80% of all property theft worldwide is caused by drug users).

America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the EU (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the US, it also has less drug use. Current policy debate is that it’s based on “speculation and fear mongering”, rather than empirical evidence on the effect of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country’s number one public health problem.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Odd Blood: Serodiscordancy, or, Life With an HIV-Positive Partner

The pills are $2,000 every month. The doctor visits never end. And there’s always the possibility the virus could spread. Otherwise, it’s not so different.

Chad, my boyfriend, types to me from the Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue, “I am HIV positive.” We study the screen together, 1,426 miles apart. The cursor of my chat window blinks for me. I’m not stunned, or even much scared, really; definitely not sickened, repulsed. I am more overcome by the simple fear that the chat window will time out, that my Internet connection will lapse, that he will think, alone in a computer lab on the other side of the country, that I have closed out. So I type in a rush, “That’s OK,” and then add, “Really.” I’m not sure he entirely believed me, then, but he came back.

Link: The Success of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

I [Richard Branson] visited Portugal, as one of the Global Drug Commissioners, to congratulate them on the success of their drug policies over the last 10 years. Ten years ago the Portuguese Government responded to widespread public concern over drugs by rejecting a “war on drugs” approach and instead decriminalized drug possession and use. It further rebuffed convention by placing the responsibility for decreasing drug demand as well as managing dependency under the Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Justice. With this, the official response towards drug-dependent persons shifted from viewing them as criminals to treating them as patients.

Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the problem far better than virtually every other Western country does. Compared to the European Union and the US, Portugal drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal has the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the EU: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%, Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%. Drug use in older teens also declined. Life time heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003. Death related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. The number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and the considerable money saved on enforcement allowed for increase funding of drug – free treatment as well. Property theft has dropped dramatically (50% - 80% of all property theft worldwide is caused by drug users).

America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the EU (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the US, it also has less drug use. Current policy debate is that it’s based on “speculation and fear mongering”, rather than empirical evidence on the effect of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country’s number one public health problem.

Link: Life After Death

Michael Harris’s beautiful personal essay “Life after Death,” published in The Walrus (Sept 2011), crystallizes the history of HIV through the lens of one who has grown up with the virus as an ever-present force. Harris moves deftly through the years and the changing stories of HIV: the shift from death sentence to chronic condition as treatments improved; the modern-day shock he experienced when he realized “that people still suffered, even died, from this virus”; and how fiercely young gay men have tried to put the plague of AIDS behind them. (Utne)

Sam grew up in an Alberta hamlet, a place of no consequence to anyone but those fortunate enough to have been born there. The kind of place where you raise two fingers off the steering wheel in greeting when you pass another car on the road. Sam was a good kid, though a hurting one. He had journals filled with dark confessions. He had legs covered with scars from the time a pot of boiling water had spilled onto his three-year-old body. He was also gay and needed to get to a city. By his twenty-eighth birthday, having rolled through a few towns already, he found himself in Vancouver and searching for love. One night in October 2001, he let a man inside him for ten seconds before muttering, “Hey, you should probably put on a condom.” Symptoms showed up almost immediately. Sam’s hands and feet became swollen. His tongue got itchy. His glands ballooned. There was dandruff in his golden brown eyebrows. He flipped through a book called The New Joy of Gay Sex and learned that after HIV enters your body, there are seven typical symptoms. He had all seven. For the next eight months, he sat with his self-diagnosis, unwilling to get tested. When he finally went to the clinic on Davie Street, a nurse gave him his results and said, “Do you need a hug?”

I’m the same age as the epidemic. By my first birthday, eight young gay guys in New York had developed purple tumours on their skin, which turned out to be a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Those boys had AIDS, though there wasn’t a name for it yet. That year, 1981, an unknowable number of men slept (shamefully or shamelessly) with each other and unwittingly consigned themselves to early deaths. That year, before the tears and the placards, before the suicides, the broken families, and the funerals, an inferno began its relentless unfolding. (One of the most insidious characteristics of HIV is that it can take years before its effects are felt, which leaves one plenty of time to unknowingly pass it along.) That year, my future best friends and I, seemingly far removed from AIDS and from each other, learned to crawl in the undestroyed homes of our parents.

This is one of the best article I’ve read in a while. Honest, thoughtful and very moving story.