- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — City health officials want the authority to give patients medication for sexually transmitted diseases that their partners would also use, though the partners hadn’t seen a doctor or been prescribed the drugs.

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city’s health commissioner, is asking Maryland lawmakers to pass the legislation — for a five-year pilot project in a city that has high rates of STDs.

Dr. Sharfstein said the treatment approach is a “little unconventional” but would help reduce cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Right now, when patients are treated for an STD in a city clinic, medical personnel give them a “partner notification card” that asks the partner to come in for treatment.

But the patients “have sex with their partner again and get another STD,” Dr. Sharfstein said. “So people would come again and again, with the same STDs. It’s very frustrating for a clinician.”

Under the proposed law, which the House will hear today, patients would be allowed to give an extra regimen of the antibiotics to their partners without the partners having to be seen and evaluated by a doctor.

The practice, known as expedited partner therapy, was endorsed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year for controlling the spread of chlamydia and gonorrhea, said Matthew Hogben, a health scientist for the centers.

There is no law in Maryland prohibiting the practice. But Dr. Sharfstein said the state’s Medical Practice Act makes it “questionable.”

According to data from the centers, 11 states allow and 13 states prohibit the therapy. There are no laws prohibiting it in the District and the remaining 25 states, including Virginia.

Baltimore leads the state in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases. The number of new chlamydia cases in the city has increased from 5,433 in 2000 to 6,380 in 2005, while new gonorrhea cases decreased from 5,603 in 2000 to 3,489 in 2005, according to state statistics.

Statewide, chlamydia cases increased from 14,533 to 18,308 in those years; gonorrhea cases decreased from 9,837 to 7,047.

Anna Jeffers, legislation and regulation manager of the Maryland Board of Pharmacy, said the board supports the legislation, despite concerns about providing prescription medicine to people who haven’t been evaluated.

One concern is the medications could prompt allergic reactions or interact badly with other drugs, she said.

Still, “I think it’s a great idea,” Miss Jeffers said. “We all do. There are just some concerns about prescribing for someone without seeing them.”

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