STD Rates Soared Alongside Opioid, Meth Use During Pandemic

Total sexually transmitted infections in 2021 beat the prior year’s record at 2.5 million, according to the CDC, coinciding with a rise in opioid and methamphetamine use throughout the pandemic.

The annual syphilis rate rose more than it has in 70 years, while gonorrhea and congenital syphilis (syphilis contracted by babies in the womb) also rose, according to the CDC. The rise is caused in part by rising use of opioids and methamphetamines during the pandemic, given their link to needle sharing, unprotected sex and prostitution, according to Politico.

Along with the STIs tracked in the 2021 CDC data, the U.S. is battling the spread of monkeypox, which is sexually transmitted in most cases. Several public health experts expressed concern about clinics’ ability to handle the monkeypox outbreak along with the general STI surge in comments to Politico.

“Monkeypox is inundating these programs and it is interrupting our ability to diagnose and treat other STIs,” said David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told the outlet. “It’s shining a bright light on the fact that safety net clinics who provide essential services are in desperate need of federal support.”

There were 700,000 gonorrhea infections in 2021, representing a 2.7% increase from 2020, while chlamydia rose 3%, according to the CDC. There was also a 25% spike in babies contracting syphilis in the womb, accounting for more than 2,600 babies.

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Hepatitis rates are also rising due to increased use of methamphetamines and opioids: needle sharing, prostitution and unprotected sex affiliated with the drugs contribute to the disease, according to Politico. Substance abuse increasedthroughout the pandemic.

The change marked a reversal of falling STD rates prior to 2020, according to Politico: chlamydia cases had declined in 2020, and the rate of congenital syphilis was more than four times lower in 2020 than 2021.

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