Syphilis Rates Rising
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease with serious complications. You would think that there would be little to no connection between syphilis and drug abuse. However, recent reports have revealed a startling finding.
Federal health officials reported an astonishing increase in syphilis cases among Americans, which seems to be linked with addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. In the last five years, syphilis rates have doubled in both males and females that abuse methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Dr. Sarah Kiss is a medical officer in the CDC’s Division of STD prevention. “While we don’t know the precise role that substance use may play in syphilis increases, we do know that substance use, particularly methamphetamine and injection drug use, has been associated with sexual behaviors that increase the risk of acquiring syphilis and other STDs,” said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Kidd.
What could be the connection between syphilis and drug abuse?
Drug abusers are reckless and have risky sexual behaviors. Kidd stated, “It is the risky behaviors that tend to go along with drug use that make one vulnerable to STDs. These include having multiple sex partners, practicing inconsistent condom use, and exchanging sex for drugs or money.”
“We also know that substance use can hamper prevention efforts,” Kidd added.
Drug abusers fear being caught hence they refrain from seeking health services, and due to their reckless sexual behavior, they are also reluctant to reveal their sexual partners.
“People who use drugs may be less inclined to seek health services, and they may also be reluctant or unable to identify or locate sex partners, which can cause delays in diagnosis and treatment,” said Kidd.
The CDC conducted surveys on heterosexual men and women as well as bisexual and gay people diagnosed with syphilis.
Kidd’s team found that an increase in substance abuse among heterosexuals was linked to the rise in the disease.
A serious illness in the past, syphilis was almost eradicated. However, there has been a surge in the number of cases of Syphilis in the United in recent years, said the CDC.
In the past five years from 2013 to 2017, the rate of syphilis increased by nearly 156 percent among women, whereas in men it went up 66 percent. Among the women with syphilis, 17 percent used methamphetamine, 10.5 percent used injection drugs, and 6 percent used heroin in the past year.
This correlation was also observed among heterosexual men, but not among gay men with syphilis.
“It is vitally important that we work to address the intersecting nature of these epidemics,” she said.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, “ For people who use drugs, it’s a lack of trust in the health care system that plays a role in not seeking medical care.”
“These issues likely contribute to the increasing incidence of syphilis and create barriers to reducing syphilis transmission and prevention in at-risk communities,” said Glatter. “Providing screening for syphilis among persons engaged in heterosexual practices who also receive treatment for substance use disorder is essential in light of the findings of this study,” added Glatter.