A connection between drug use and high syphilis rates in the United States was established by a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sarah Kidd, lead author of the report, pointed out that two major health issues, namely addiction and syphilis, seemed to be colliding with each other.
The report displayed a connection between drug use and instances of syphilis in heterosexual men and women. As per the report, the usage of heroin, methamphetamine, and other injection drugs by the aforementioned group almost doubled from 2013 to 2017.
The report however, did not display a similar increase in drug abuse in gay men suffering from syphilis. According to the researchers, the results of the study indicated that risky sexual behaviors associated with drug abuse may be one of the key driving factors for this increase in syphilis among the heterosexual population.
People using drugs more likely to engage in unsafe sexual activities
According to experts, people abusing drugs are more likely to engage in unsafe sexual activities, thereby making them more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Syphilis significantly increased among heterosexuals especially during the ‘crack cocaine epidemic’ prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s. It was observed that during this particular time period, the usage of drugs was connected with the higher transmission rates of syphilis.
According to Patricia Kissinger, professor epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, it is common tendency among people abusing drugs to indulge in unprotected sex, exchange sex in lieu of money or drugs, and have multiple sex partners. All these are considered as significant risk factors contributing to the spread of the disease.
Syphilis rates are setting new records
At the national level, the occurrences of syphilis jumped by around 73 percent at an overall level and 156 percent in case of women patients between 2013 and 2017. While syphilis had been almost eradicated, of late, the highest resurgence of the disease was reported in California, Louisiana, and Nevada. Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can cause organ damage and even death in some cases. In women, congenital syphilis typically occurs when a mother transmits the disease to her unborn baby, leading to cases of premature birth and newborn fatalities.
Analyzing the syphilis cases that occurred between 2013 and 2017, the researchers discovered that methamphetamine abuse was the biggest contributor. The report revealed that more than one-third of women and a quarter of heterosexual men suffering from syphilis were reported to be abusing methamphetamine within the last year. The California Department of Public Health reported that methamphetamine use by people suffering from syphilis, doubled in case of heterosexual men and women between 2013 and 2017.
Why is it difficult to treat sexually transmitted infections?
Owing to the overlapping instances of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), it becomes challenging to identify and treat people suffering from syphilis. That is because, typically, people using drugs are less likely to visit a doctor or report their sexual activities or partners.
Likewise, pregnant women may refrain from seeking prenatal care and get themselves tested for syphilis owing to concerns such as their gynecologists reporting their drug abuse. To combat this issue, the CDC urges to bring about more collaboration between programs treating substance abuse and programs addressing STIs.
Fresno County reported highest rate of congenital syphilis
According to the report, the highest rate of congenital syphilis was reported in Fresno County in California. The county’s community health division manager, Joe Prado, said that the California Health Department analyzed around 25 congenital syphilis cases in 2017 and more than two-thirds of these women were abusing drugs.
To address this issue, the country took proactive measures such as offering STD testing for patients getting admitted into inpatient drug treatment centers. Patients coming back for reports were provided incentives including gift cards. Apart from this, for patients undergoing drug treatment, the county offered a care package comprising of contraceptives and education materials about STIs.
While it is significant to have an increased collaboration between STD clinics and drug treatment providers, it is not always that simple, since these two entities have not worked together previously. Usually both these units tend to focus only on their relevant specialties and often fail to screen people for associated ailments like syphilis or other forms of STIs or for drug abuse.
According to Jeffrey Kalusner, professor of medicine and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in order to fight the rising rates of syphilis more resources are needed. He added that though policies can be implemented towards syphilis testing, these policies need to be accompanied with appropriate resources.
Seeking treatment for drug abuse
Drug abuse is often associated with the development of physical ailments like hepatitis C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis and other STDs. These infections can be severe and result in rapid deterioration of overall health. The best way to avoid the contraction of these diseases is to avoid taking drugs or if addicted, to seek addiction treatment help at the earliest.
The drug rehab centers of Hillside Mission offer comprehensive evidence-based treatment plans for substance abuse. Whether selecting an inpatient, outpatient, or a residential plan, the detox process at Hillside Mission is designed to minimize the patient’s discomfort and result in a shorter treatment cycle.