California state senator Scott Weiner is leading a push to make pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medications available over the counter without a prescription in the state. The move would vastly increase the availability of medications proven to thwart HIV infection.
PrEP is a once a day medication regimen that has been found over 98% effective in preventing the spread of HIV. PEP is taken within 72 hours of potential exposure and can help prevent HIV infection.
At current, medications that are used to prevent infection require a prescription from a physician. Insurance companies also often have to agree to cover the medication before the prescription can be covered. This can lead to several roadblocks to getting PrEP and PEP, including cost, stigma, and mistrust of medical professionals.
Senate Bill 159, introduced by Weiner in January, would require that potential purchasers be tested for HIV within seven days prior to buying the medication. Pharmacists would also have to notify the purchaser’s primary care physician, as well as counsel patients on potential side effects.
Weiner has admitted that he, too, takes PrEP as an HIV prevention strategy.
“We must do more to increase access to revolutionary medicines that help keep people HIV negative, and that’s exactly what SB 159 does,” said Senator Wiener via press release. “By allowing pharmacists to furnish PrEP and PEP, we will help more people, especially low-income people and people of color, stay negative. California has some of the highest disparities between communities of color and white communities around HIV infections. SB 159 will help close that disparity by increasing access for everyone.”
SB 159 passed almost unanimously in the State Senate this spring, and is currently making its way through the California State Assembly.
The bill is being championed by many HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ rights groups, as well as the California Pharmacists Association. The California Medical Association, however, is not on board, demanding that PrEP not be included due to their insistence on screening and checkups.