Crystal Meth Went Underground.

Carl’s online profile states that he’s not into “pigs, sluts, and whatever other names they proudly call themselves.” A freelance promoter in the “PNP” scene (Internet slang for “party and play,” or crystal meth and sex), Carl cruises Websites like Manhunt, M4M, Man4Today, and even Craig’s List (where Carl and I first met) in search of potential partyers. As his profile suggests, Carl isn’t prone to days-long drug binges, nor is he into wildly unsafe sex.

But prospective partygoers must meet certain standards: young and cute (a jpeg is requested for proof), disease-free (or at least willing to wear a condom), and, most important, “have not been up for a week.” Those selected are rewarded with an intimate sex party (“just three or four guys”) and lots of drugs at a nice midtown hotel. But in the PNP scene, finding the next party is as important as finding the next high, so revelers are often restless upon arrival at Carl’s get-togethers. “I’ll arrange for these guys to come over, and when they show up, all they want to do is grab a keyboard and cruise,” Carl complains.

That crystal meth made landfall in New York’s gay community is well known. This year brought Operation Chelsea Connection, a DEA bust of the city’s largest and most sophisticated crystal-dealing organization, yielding seventeen pounds of the drug (enough for more than 30,000 doses); the introduction of Chuck Schumer’s Stop Crystal Meth Act of 2004 (a bill proposing prison sentences for crystal dealing that are equivalent to those for crack offenders); and the formation of a new, anti-crystal nonprofit called the Crystal Meth Working Group, which was born out of a controversial ad campaign bearing the message BUY CRYSTAL, GET HIV FREE!

But all this activity obscured the changing dimensions of the epidemic: This year, crystal users migrated away from sex clubs, which have been raided by the city’s Department of Health, and into small get-togethers like Carl’s. “I had a club promoter call me and say, ‘I want to help you guys with this crystal problem because no one is coming to my parties anymore,’ ” says Dan Carlson of the Crystal Meth Working Group.

The private nature of the crystal problem is making outreach exceedingly difficult. According to Peter Staley, also of the Crystal Meth Working Group, “the Internet is far more conducive to this epidemic” than sex clubs. “I think that if you look at San Francisco and Los Angeles, everybody accepts crystal as part of gay life,” he adds. “And in all likelihood, that’s New York’s future.”

Crystal Meth Went Underground.