This Pill Is Being Touted as the Morning-After Pill For STIs – Here’s What to Know
Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are incredibly common. In fact, one in five people have an STI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And in 2021 alone, approximately 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported, demonstrating a sharp increase from years past.
But one medication aims to curb some of those stats, particularly for gay and bisexual men, in addition to transgender women – who all experience higher rates of STIs than cisgender heterosexual people, NBC News reports.
DoxyPEP, an antibiotic more formally known as doxycycline, is being touted as the potential “morning-after pill” for STIs. The medication can be used to treat certain bacterial infections and experts believe, if taken soon enough, it can prevent the spread of certain STIs. It has proven particularly effective at preventing chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea among cisgender men who have sex with men and transgender women.
The pill has yet to hit mainstream medicine. It’s not FDA-approved for STI post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and doesn’t have the CDC’s recommendation, either. But if and when it does, experts believe it could change the sexual health game for many.
“This will offer more options for people who are sexually active to be proactive about their health, helping prevent STIs before they arise and helping protect their partners and greater communities,” Adrienne Ton, ARNP, Family Nurse Practitioner and Director of Clinical Operations at TBD Health, tells POPSUGAR.
“I think this could be one tool, among a whole strategy of approaches, for promoting sexual health and preventing disease,” Ton adds. “I envision people working with trusted clinicians, like the ones we have at TBD Health, who can discuss their life and activities and goals for their health and work to create a strategy for promoting health. This might be one part of that strategy in preventing STIs – like regular STI testing, doxyPEP, HIV PrEP, contraception, and condoms/dental dams.”
Ahead, more on how DoxyPEP works, its efficacy, where it’s currently available, and when it’s expected to go mainstream.
How Does DoxyPEP Work?
“DoxyPEP is a dose of doxycycline, an antibiotic, taken within 72 hours of condomless sex,” Ton tells POPSUGAR. Following exposure to an STI during sex, there’s a period where a bacteria (like gonorrhea or chlamydia) starts to grow and replicate in the body. “Taking this medication helps to stop the bacteria from replicating early on before it can cause disease,” says Ton. This medication has been shown to help prevent some bacterial STIs, like syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, but cannot help prevent all STIs, including viral ones like HIV, Ton explains.
How Effective Is DoxyPEP?
A 2022 study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) showed that taking DoxyPEP after having condomless sex could reduce the risk of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis among trans women and cisgender men who have sex with men by up to two-thirds.
“This is an encouraging finding that could help reduce the number of sexually transmitted infections in populations most at-risk,” said Hugh Auchincloss, MD, NIAID acting director, in a statement.
That being said, “DoxyPEP has been studied only in specific populations, so though it’s really promising and hopeful, we cannot definitively say that this will work for the general US population,” Ton says. “We have not seen as promising data among people assigned female at birth for now.”
The CDC has also voiced concerns about widespread usage of DoxyPEP fueling the antibiotic resistance problem in the US, per Vox. Specifically, the resistance of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis to the effect of antibiotics has rapidly increased in recent years, according to the WHO. And of the three STIs, gonorrhea has developed the strongest resistance to antibiotics. Experts worry that DoxyPEP could run the risk of exacerbating this resistance, making it harder and harder to treat these STIs.
Where Can You Get DoxyPEP?
Right now, DoxyPEP for STI prevention can be hard to come by. But as an FDA-approved drug for other infections (like tick fevers) it can be prescribed for off-label usage – and it is by a handful of providers, and in certain local health clinics. If you’re curious about DoxyPEP, have a conversation with your health-care provider or local clinic to find out more information about access in your specific area.
As for when the pill will hit mainstream medicine, there’s still some work to be done. The CDC said it was “encouraged” by the initial data from the NIAID-funded study, but “look forward to seeing additional data from the study to evaluate the potential individual and public health risks of doxy-PEP.”