California will soon allow residents to access HIV prevention drugs without a prescription, a move hailed by advocates who say the medications will dramatically lower the spread of infection.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed SB159 on Monday, allowing pharmacists to provide 30-day or 60-day prescriptions for pre-exposure prophylaxis, also called PrEP, or for post-exposure prophylaxis, known as PEP. To obtain a prescription a person must take an HIV test and receive counseling about the drugs, including potential side effects. The new law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, prohibits insurance companies from requiring prior authorization for the prescriptions.
“Recent breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of HIV can literally save lives,” Newsom said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “All Californians deserve access to PrEP and PEP, two treatments that have transformed our fight against HIV and AIDS. I applaud the Legislature for taking action to expand access to these treatments and getting us close to ending HIV and AIDS for good.”
PrEP, sold under the brand name Truvada, is a daily pill that can dramatically reduce HIV infections. PEP is a monthlong course of drugs begun within 72 hours after potential exposure to the virus that can prevent a person from becoming infected.
Clinical studies show Truvada is 99% effective when taken daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health advocates cheered the passage of the bill and called Newsom’s signature a “giant step” toward ending new HIV infections and reducing the stigma around the virus.
“The HIV epidemic is still a pressing issue today — especially for LGBTQ people of color and folks in rural communities,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement. “But with Governor Newsom’s signature, SB 159 is a giant step forward in getting to zero transmissions, zero deaths and zero stigma.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), a co-author of the legislation, said the law would “help us end this epidemic.”
“I applaud Governor Newsom for signing this first-in-the-nation legislation to remove barriers to these critical HIV-preventatives,” Wiener said in a statement.
The Associated Press reports around 30,000 Californians currently use PrEP, and 6,000 use PEP. The availability of the drugs has helped some cities, including San Francisco, see HIV infection rates fall to record lows this year, although some communities are still vulnerable.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported last month that new HIV cases rose in both Latino and black communities, as well as with homeless people and intravenous drug users.