In recent years, India has witnessed a concerning rise in stimulant use among specific vulnerable populations, particularly gay men and transgender women.  In social media dating apps one can find easy reference to ‘Hi-fun’ , Hi-fun is a commonly used term in social media in the context of sex with drugs. The use of substances like Methamphetamine (Meth) and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as party pills has become prevalent within the community, leading to potential health risks and harm.  While comprehensive data on drug use among specific subgroups like gay men and trans women is scarce, studies have indicated a concerning trend. According to the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s 2019 survey, Methamphetamine use has been rising among urban youth, and MDMA is becoming increasingly popular in club and party scenes across major cities. However, more specific data is required to understand the extent of stimulant use within the LGBTQ+ community. Currently few virtual interventions working through social media in the country focused on Men who have sex with other men (MSM) , Male sex workers and trans women, also highlighted the increasing trend of stimulant use among users. Yadavendra Singh, a well known LGBTQ activist from Pahal Foundation (Delhi and Lucknow), said, “5-6 years ago hi-fun was not common among B and C tier cities, but these days one can find profiles openly inviting for ‘Hi-fun'”, he further stated that ‘it’s a worrisome trend’. 

What are these stimulants

 These drugs come under the category of stimulants, unlike conventional opioid based drugs, these drugs bring euphoric and energizing effects. These substances can induce feelings of pleasure, heightened sensory experiences, and increased sociability, making them seem appealing in social settings like parties and clubs. Stimulant use affects our body in both short and long term: The short term effects are – Increased energy and alertness, Elevated mood and euphoria, Increased heart rate and blood pressure, Reduced appetite and Increased libido and sexual desire. Whereas long term effects are – Sleep disturbances and insomnia, Anxiety and paranoia, Cognitive impairments, Cardiovascular problems, Potential risk of addiction and dependence. It is also important to know all these substances come under NDPS act, thus the possession and consumption leads to immediate arrest and punishment as per law. 

Stimulants mixture with sex

Combining stimulant use with sexual activity can lead to lowered inhibitions and impaired judgment, increasing the likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex. To prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, it is vital to use condoms consistently and correctly during sexual encounters, especially after drug use.  Manoj Benjwal of The Humsafar Trust shared thate from his experience of working with gay men, he knew many people who started it as recreational drug for pleasure, and eventually became addicted to it. He further mentioned that most of these people who earlier had HIV negative status, turned HIV positive in a short span of time, which highlight the concerns on substance use, be it sharing needles or equipment or unsafe sexual practices under influence of substances, make users more vulnerable to HIV, STI and other health risks. 

Status of Current interventions

The existing HIV programs such as Targeted Interventions, have a very limited understanding on substance use, even interventions implemented with drug users have sound understanding of only opioid based drugs. Whereas stimulants are a different class of drugs and have very limited options available in case of overdose treatment. It is also important to highlight that overdose and deaths related to overdose are on rise globally.

The harm reduction strategies should focus on raising awareness about the risks associated with stimulant use. Educational programs should target vulnerable communities, including gay men and transgender women, to promote informed decision-making. It’s important we should shun the shame and start talking about it openly, more dialogues will help to mainstream this critical issue. 

Safer Drug Use Practices

If individuals choose to use drugs, they should be encouraged to practice safer drug use, including using clean and sterile needles, not sharing drug paraphernalia, and avoiding mixing substances.

Support and Counseling

Access to non-judgmental counseling and support services can help individuals navigate their substance use and explore healthier coping mechanisms.

Overall Message to community

Drug use, especially stimulants use, can have severe consequences on physical and mental health. Instead of seeking temporary thrills through substances, explore healthier ways to have fun and build meaningful connections with others. Reach out for support and seek a fulfilling life that does not rely on risky behaviors.

Community Based Organizations need to strengthen the component of harm reduction, to address stimulant use among gay men and transgender women in India requires a multi-faceted approach. Combining data-driven interventions, harm reduction strategies, and promoting safer sexual practices can empower these communities to make healthier choices. Together, we can create an inclusive society that values the well-being of all its members. 

Yashwinder Singh