The article appeared in New York Magazine in 2008. “Another AIDS Casualty”by David France, a profile of once-famous New York AIDS physician Dr. Ramon “Gabriel” Torres, was a heart-wrenching read.
The story outlined a horrifying downward spiral brought on by Torres’ meth addiction, a habit he had picked up in the 1990s, just as new HIV medications were calming the mortal tidal waves that Torres had been fighting for years in his role as director of AIDS programs at St Vincent’s Medical Center in New York City. Torres fell from a high perch, having become well known, heralded in fact, for his work with marginalized populations dealing with HIV.
Torres’ ravenous addiction stole his career, his homes, his relationships and his reputation. Before finally being sent to prison on drug charges in 2014, Torres was reduced, in a final tragic irony, to living in housing provided by a city program for homeless people living with HIV.
The 2008 profile made such an impression on me because I was an active crystal meth addict at the time. I recognized in Torres my own plight and that of others – activists, doctors, community leaders – who had fought hard against one epidemic only to be swept up in a new one.
Gabriel Torres is alive and doing well. He was released from prison in November 2017, and has been writing about his experiences for TheBody.com. Here we talk about his difficult past, his hopeful life today, and his plans for the future.
It’s strange talking to you like this, because David France’s 2008 piece about you freaked me out so much. I was in my own active addiction during that time.
After that story, I had a period of relative abstinence, but I relapsed and unfortunately fell prey to a dealer that set me up in an entrapment that led to my arrests. …I went through a great deal of soul searching after a period of self-pitying but have come to terms with everything that happened.
I don’t believe it’s any accident that drug abuse of so many people really took hold in 1996, when new HIV medications began saving lives, and we all took a collective breath. I felt entitled to the circuit parties and the drugs.
Yes. It felt liberating at the time. Somehow, it allowed us to experience a new freedom after the long toll of repression. It also made me even less cognizant of the repercussions that continued use could have on my life. It numbed me to the risks that I was taking.
Do you, like so many addicts, have trouble forgiving yourself?
Forgiveness has been a long process. But I have to, to move on. The only way I can make amends with myself and others is by maintaining my sobriety and helping others that are still struggling.
As you’ve probably noticed, meth addiction among gay men is as bad, maybe worse, these days.
Yes. Meth continues to intercalate itself in our sexual lives, destroying and undermining our personal relationships. I believe we as gay men can and are slowly pulling through it. Those of us that have somehow survived the meth epidemic can help serve as role models and help those that are still struggling and prevent those that have never tried it from ever experimenting in with it.
And it’s been seeping into LGBTQ communities of color.
Yes, this has recently been recognized and it’s going to take members of the black gay male community to develop strategies to combat this drug from decimating their community. Already there has been some recognition of the problem by film makers such as Michael Rice (Partyboi)and the ACT UP meth working group in NYC is seeking funds to conduct forums and draw attention to the problem.
You’re working as a research assistant for the first national multicenter study of methamphetamine treatment in the U.S. Tell me about that.
The main study involves two drugs, bupropion and naltrexone combination, which reduce the cravings and are an adjunct to CMA, therapy and counseling for those who wish to reduce or quit using.
What are your long-term plans? Are you able to practice medicine again?
I’ve started a process to recover my medical license. It’s going to take several years and must wait until I’m done with parole and probation. In the meantime, I will continue pursuing research endeavors.
Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger and long-term HIV survivor. A version of this interview ran in Q magazine. Read the full issue of Q below, and enjoy King's entire conversation with Gabriel Torres, as well as all of his other work, at myfabulousdisease.com.