With STDs on rise, Montgomery County leaders want free condoms in all high schools

With rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases, Montgomery County leaders want condoms available, for free, in all county public high schools.

This week, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse and councilman George Leventhal wrote a memorandum to colleagues and county health leaders recommending an expansion to a pilot project that is making condoms available at four county high schools this school year in Gaithersburg in Silver Spring areas: Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, Wheaton, and Northwood.

They say at these schools, condoms will be available in the high school wellness centers and information on sexual health will be distributed along with the contraceptive.

"We would like to see access expanded beyond these four schools to all high schools in the county as has been done in Baltimore City and Dorchester County," the memorandum reads.

The memorandum also suggests studying condom access in middle schools. Data released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are at an all-time high in the U.S.

The CDC reports that cases of gonorrhea are surging because the infection is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

"We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed," said Gail Bolan, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention.

In Montgomery County, there has been a three-year spike in the three infections, which is being called a public health crisis. The STDs are especially prevalent among people 15 to 29 years old.

"There's always going to be people in the community who haven't read the research, who are under the illusion that if you just don't talk about sexual activity, kids won't do it," Ortman-Fouse said.

"But I think that's an emotional reaction as opposed to a fact-based reaction. And the research clearly states that when you couple sexual education with resources like condoms that, actually, risk behavior goes down."

A study from earlier this year says that condom distribution in schools did not cause an increase in sexual activity.

Ortman-Fouse says she plans to propose at Thursday's school board meeting that the board schedule to vote on the issue in September.