Syphilis Has Been Linked to Drug Use

Recent statistical information links high rates of syphilis to drug use, claiming it to be a major risk factor in sexual behavior and getting STDs.

Research suggests that the risk involved with sexual activities that are associated with drug use could easily be a driving factor in the increase of syphilis spreading among heterosexuals. Those who engage in substance abuse are more likely to have unsafe sex, putting them at a higher risk for STDs than others.

Sarah Kidd helped to author the report on syphilis and drug use. She is an officer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report shows the connection between drug use and syphilis among women and heterosexual men. Reportedly, the use of heroin, methamphetamine, and other IV drugs has increased significantly in these groups from 2013 to 2017, the same way syphilis has increased. The CDC saw similar increases in syphilis during the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.

Syphilis rates have jumped by 156 percent for women and 73 percent overall since 2013. The highest rates were reported in California, Nevada, and Louisiana.

Further research provided that methamphetamine was the most significant common issue among drug users in the syphilis cases from 2013 to 2017. More than one full third of women and a fourth of heterosexual men with syphilis stated that they had used methamphetamines within the year.

Syphilis is a treatable STD, but if it were to be left untreated, it could lead to organ damage and even death. Congenital Syphilis happens when a pregnant mother passes syphilis on to her unborn child. This has been known to cause premature birth and death in newborn babies.

A professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Patricia Kissinger, says that the addiction “takes over.” Users of drugs won’t use condoms, might have multiple partners, or they might even use sex to get money or drugs. All of these things increase the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases. Sara Kennedy, a medical director for a Planned Parenthood in Northern California, argues that it is impossible to eradicate syphilis without addressing meth use and intravenous drug use.

The ties between substance abuse and syphilis can make it more difficult to treat many cases of syphilis, as drug users are less likely to seek treatment and to report their sexual partners, according to Kidd.

To fight back against syphilis, a collaboration between STD (or STI) help programs and substance abuse treatment programs, is what the CDC wants.

Reportedly, Fresno County has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in California. 25 cases were analyzed in 2017, and most of the mothers were found to be using drugs, reported Joe Prado, the county’s health division manager. To fight this, Fresno has put in place drug and STD-related initiatives. They now offer STD testing for people entering addiction treatment facilities. “That’s our opportunity to get them screened,” he said. The county also offers a gift card for those who return to see the results. They also give those in drug treatment care packages containing condoms and information on STDs

Still, Jeffery Klausner, a professor of health and medicine at UCLA, says that fighting the rising rates of syphilis will require resources that they don’t currently have.

Though, hopefully, they’ve made steps in the right direction already.