Of Meth and Men

The drug fuels gay parties -- but the party was almost over before Rod finally found help.

But Bob didn't just collect statistics. He met with citizens and heard their concerns about drug dealers and crackhouses in their neighborhoods. He coordinated the Denver Drug Task Force, a group of 28 community members who started working on a citywide strategic plan for prevention, intervention and treatment. His ten months as drug czar was one of the most rewarding times of Bob's life.

Bob's home life was becoming increasingly demanding, however. A single father of two boys, he was now fostering a third child -- a boy from a family addicted to meth -- whom he hoped to adopt.

Bob needed more flexibility in his schedule, and more money wouldn't hurt, either. He and his boys liked to travel and snowboard; their favorite activity was going to Winter Park for the day, then eating onion rings and watching a hippie band play. The tradition continued even after one son broke his arm in the terrain park two years ago.

After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
Anthony Camera
After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.
Anthony Camera
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.

So when the executive-director position opened at the Council, a fifty-year-old non-profit treatment, prevention and addiction-intervention agency based in Denver and funded by grants and Mile High United Way, Bob jumped at the chance.

At the Council, Bob was contacted by Imani Latif, director of It Takes a Village, an Aurora nonprofit devoted to reducing health and social disparities, particularly among people of color. It Takes a Village receives funding through the Ryan White program, and those grants require that people from all walks of life who are infected with HIV be recipients of the services. Latif already had workers getting the word out in the minority community, and she hoped Bob might be able to suggest someone who could focus on the increased HIV infections tied to meth use in the gay community.

Bob knew just the person: Rod Rushing.

"Take a look at this guy," Bob said. "He's pretty powerful, he's pretty amazing, and I think he deserves a chance."

Latif did take a look. And while she usually brings a potential hire before a review panel, she gave Rod the full-time job after just one meeting. She was impressed by his sincerity, his understanding, his passion for fighting the epidemic. "He laid out how he would get referrals of clients, how he would help the clients, what he would do," Latif remembers. "Sometimes you find leaders in your community who are your least likely leaders."

Today, Rod and Bob work together as colleagues.

Bob brought his intense interest in the meth epidemic to the Council. "It's personal to me as a gay man, because it's affecting my community as well as the children I adopted," he says. He wants the Council to be the first agency in town to engage the gay community in meth treatment and awareness. So far, he says, the effort is mostly one of "cultural competency," focusing on a new treatment group for gay men who use meth and either have been infected with HIV or are at risk of infection.

With these men, it's critical that they have someone they can look to who's struggled with the same demon. So Bob enlisted Rod's help.

"We use that buzzword 'cultural competence,' but Rod is like the essence of cultural competence because he sees the differences," Latif says. "He recognizes the specific cultural needs of people. But his heart is so big that people relate to him and confide in him regardless of their ethnic background. And that is rare."

As part of his work with It Takes a Village, Rod takes clients to the doctor, interpreting medical terminology and discussing treatments. During one cold day last winter, he picked up an HIV-positive man at seven in the morning and took him to dialysis treatment so he wouldn't have to take a bus. Another client didn't speak English, but Rod somehow made himself clear.

Clients aren't the only ones who appreciate Rod. As he coordinates efforts with other HIV clinics around town, administrators have recognized his talents. "I'm telling you, people are trying to steal Rod from me," says Latif.

One of those people is Bob. Armed with a $37,000 planning grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, he and Rod are studying the best ways to intervene and treat gay men who use meth. As part of the project, Rod will travel to a few cities, including Chicago and possibly San Francisco, to research what they've done so that Denver can take advantage of their experience. And after they've come up with a solid proposal, Bob and Rod plan to request a $150,000 three-year grant to fully implement the program with four or five staffers, plus volunteers.

"It takes mental-health support, it takes a good after-care plan, it takes family support, it takes friends' support to turn somebody around on meth," Bob says. "It's a pretty comprehensive support plan. Looking at any community and any group of people, you try to provide cultural competency with treatment. For the gay community, you want to use language and treatment protocols that meet their needs."

While working with the city, Bob instituted a program created by the Matrix Institute on Addictions. That program has a gay variation called "Getting Off" that the two hope to use in this project.

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