As diagnoses of chlamydia and gonorrhea increase, legislators (and Tim Pawlenty!) embrace a sound-but-controversial plan to combat them
The increasing incidence of STD diagnoses in Minnesota is prompting lawmakers and public health departments to come up with strategies to address the emerging epidemic. A new and somewhat controversial approach to treating sexually transmitted infections was signed into law this year, exemplifying a rare instance of cooperation between the DFL and Republicans on an important issue.
Patient-delivered partner therapy (PDPT) for chlamydia and gonorrhea was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last month. It will allow physicians to dispense prescriptions for the partners of patients who have tested positive for either disease without the physician ever seeing the partner for an evaluation. Minnesota is one of a dozen states that implement patient-delivered partner therapy for the treatment of gonorrhea and chlamydia. Another dozen have outlawed the practice.
“This law makes good common sense from both a public policy and a public health perspective,” Kathi Di Nicola, director of media relations for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota told Minnesota Independent. “Planned Parenthood has protocol in place to ensure that our patients and their partners receive treatment for sexually transmitted infections, with a strong emphasis on education, safer sex and encouraging partners to be tested.”
Before the change in law, it would have been illegal to dispense a prescription for someone who was not a patient.
When circumstances prevent the partner of someone infected with an STI from getting tested and treated at a clinic, it often leaves that partner contagious and able to continue to infect others. “If partner testing is not an option in confirmed patient cases of chlamydia or gonorrhea, after a medical consultation, we can now send medications home with the patient to his or her treat partner,” says Di Nicola.
The rate of chlamydia infection among Minnesotans has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and has affected mainly young women of color. Despite this, little has been done by the legislature or the governor to fight an epidemic that can lead to sterility in both men and women. The governor successfully blocked legislation for comprehensive sex education and budgets for prevention programs and community education continue to shrink as issues like transportation, housing, and budget shortfalls dominate lists of funding priorities.
Originally introduced by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, the PDPT bill did not make it out of committee, but was added to a bill amending existing prescription drug statutes. That bill had the bipartisan sponsorship of Reps. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud; Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth; Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake; Matt Dean, R-Dellwood; Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont; Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover; Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids; and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, in the House. A Senate version was offered by Marty and Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria that invades the cells lining the reproductive tract. If left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women and seriously damage the uterus and ovaries. In men, is can infect the testicles and lead to sterility.
The Centers for Disease Control is actively advocating the protocol. Dr. Douglas Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention told the Washington Times, “Men who may not have a physician or who may be reluctant to seek health care because they themselves don’t have symptoms, can get treated without having to visit a doctor themselves.”
“We hope that this will have some impact on stemming the rising rates of STIs in Minnesota,” says Di Nicola.