Illicit Drug Abuse and STDs

STDsSexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are transmitted mainly through sexual activity; however, some STDs can be transmitted by sharing drug injection equipment, as well.[1] In 2005, the United States reported 976,445 new cases of chlamydia; 339,593 new cases of gonorrhea; 266,000 new cases of herpes; and 8,724 new cases of syphilis.1 Americans aged 15 to 24 represent nearly 50 percent of all new STD cases.1

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) gave out a survey that asked questions to examine health conditions, including STDs.1 Respondents were provided with a list of health conditions and were asked whether or not they have ever been diagnosed with one or more of them.1 If they had been, they were asked to indicate whether or not it was in the past year.1 The survey also asked respondents aged 12 and over to report on their alcohol and illicit drug use in the past month.1

Results showed that young adults aged 18 to 25 were more likely to have an STD in the past year if their frequency of alcohol use in the past month was high.1 Alcohol use increases the risk of risky sexual behavior, putting young adults at risk of having unprotected sex and contracting STDs.1 However, that number grew if the young adult was also using illicit drugs.1

One of the drugs that is most associated with STDs is crack cocaine, as it significantly increases the chances of the user participating in risky sexual behavior.[2] In fact, studies have attributed the high prevalence of HIV infection, syphilis, and genital ulcer disease to unprotected sex, incited by the use of crack cocaine.2 A study of female drug users who did not inject drugs were recruited from drug treatment centers.2 Results showed that the use of crack cocaine was the most significant predictor of syphilis.2 Also, more than one-third of the volunteers had an STD.2

In a 1997 survey of blood samples from people who frequented crack houses in Houston, it was found that 13% had syphilis, 61 percent had herpes, 11 percent had HIV, 53 percent had hepatitis B, and 42 percent had hepatitis C.2

Those who inject heroin are also at a high risk of contracting some of the more serious STDs.1 Sharing dirty needles increases the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS, and since heroin users are the most likely to take drugs intravenously, they are at the greatest risk of the infection.1 When the addict is in need of the drug, it is likely that they do not think about sterile equipment.1 Using an infected needle only once can spread the disease.1

Sharing dirty needles can also lead to hepatitis C infection.1 This infection causes long-term damage of the liver, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.1

Like with alcohol and cocaine, heroin can cause its addicts to engage in unprotected and risky sex, increasing their risks for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and many other STDs.1 Many drug users, when desperate for their fix, will trade sex for drugs.1 This can quickly spread diseases from one person to the next.1

Some STDs can be treated and will go away; however, some are lifelong infections. Illicit drug use and STDs are a serious public health concern.

[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (March 30, 2007). The NSDUH Report: Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Substance Use. Rockville, MD.

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