Some places hit hard by the opioid epidemic are also seeing an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The New York Times recently reported on the rise of syphilis in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where officials say the trading of sex for drugs has caused a spike in syphilis cases.
Syphilis can be deadly, and because many doctors have never seen the disease, it’s often misdiagnosed.
Dr. Peter Gulick is an infectious disease specialist in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. He says penicillin is still used to treat syphilis. "That's really the drug of choice," he explains, "and depending upon what stage of syphilis, be it early stage or late stage, you might get one shot, you might get a couple shots of penicillin."
There recently was a shortage of penicillin, and Dr. Gulick says doctors had to rely on other antibiotics like tetracycline, which has also been effective in treating syphilis. That's in contrast to with some strains of gonorrhea, which has developed resistance to many antibiotics.
A blood test can confirm if a patient has ever been exposed to syphilis. If the test is positive, a second test determines if the disease is active.
Dr. Gulick is concerned the opioid epidemic could lead to more STD's. "This is a very, very concerning thing," he states.