California will become the first state in the United States to allow individuals to purchase the HIV prevention drugs, PrEP and PEP, without the prescription from a physician. The state’s governor of California signed the new legislation allowing pharmacists to dispense the pills without prescription after support poured over, claiming how the legislation would greatly reduce the case of HIV in the state.
California, considered as a leader in HIV-AIDS prevention, has become the first state to legislate Senate Bill 159 to loosen the regulatory requirement for people to purchase PrEP and PEP. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or known as PrEP, is a preventive pill taken by HIV negative individuals to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. The same version of the drug, post-exposure prophylaxis of PEP, is instead taken by HIV positive individuals to prevent the virus from taking hold.
Scientific support on the effectivity of PrEP in preventing exposure to the virus and PEP in stopping the virus from taking hold of the patient has since been established. Medical professionals said that PEP is highly effective in preventing infections caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if taken 72 hours of exposure to the virus. However, they claim that not everyone can see a doctor within the said timeline for them to purchase the drug with a prescription.
Rick Zbur, the executive director of Equality California, says that allowing individuals to purchase PEP and PrEP over-the-counter removes the barrier from people who needs it. “The ability to go into a pharmacy to avail themselves of the medication is a huge improvement to removing the barrier,” he said.
Zbur further noted that the legislation will be instrumental in improving access to the medication and would help reduce the stigma surrounding HIV-AIDS and the purchase of medication used to prevent the disease, especially in cities like California, in rural areas and among minorities.
California has an estimated 30,000 people who are using PrEP as part of their HIV prevention management, and 6,000 people are using PEP to manage their HIV reactive status. The number came from the California Health Benefits Review Program, an organization whose expertise help in providing analysis in aid of the legislation.
Because of the opposition from the medical community regarding the new law, the proponents of the measure amended the legislation only to limit the number of PrEP pills that can be purchased by an individual without a prescription to 60 days. Anthony York, the spokesperson for the California Medical Association, said that the organization had shifted its opinion from opposing to neutral after the amendment was added to the law.
The dissent from medical professionals is reasonable as they said they are worried about the effects of the long-term use of the pills without “physician oversight,” York added.
As part of the new law, insurance companies will be prohibited from requiring patients to get authorizations from physicians before covering the purchase of PrEP and PEP in their policies.
“To end new HIV infections, we must dramatically expand access to PrEP and PEP, yet far too many Californians who need these drugs struggle to access them,” said Senator Scott Weiner, co-author of the bill and has publicly disclosed that he is using PrEP as part of his HIV prevention strategy.