California Becomes 1st State to Sell HIV Prevention Drugs Without a Prescription

California became the first state to allow the sale of HIV prevention drugs such as Truvada's PrEP pills without a prescription.
California became the first state to allow the sale of HIV prevention drugs such as Truvada's PrEP pills without a prescription. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

California just became the first state to allow people to buy HIV prevention drugs at pharmacies without a prescription, according to recent news reports. 

Around 1.2 million Americans currently live with AIDS, an incurable disease that develops after an individual is infected with the HIV virus. But in the last couple of decades, new treatments have increasingly allowed people with AIDS to live long and full lives; and new prevention drugs have reduced the number of people being infected with HIV in the first place. 

On Monday (Oct. 7), California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows people to buy these prevention drugs at pharmacies without a prescription and also prohibits insurance companies from requiring "prior authorization" before using the insurance to purchase the drugs.

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One of the pills, called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, is a daily pill for people who want to prevent HIV infections; the other pill, called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, is an emergency pill that people can take after a possible exposure to HIV in order to reduce their chances of infection.

PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus, and continued for 28 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That does not always allow enough time for a person to get a prescription from a doctor, Rick Zbur, the executive director of the nonprofit LGBTQ civil rights group Equality California, told the Associated Press

PrEP is taken by people who might be at high risk for HIV. When taken daily, it is about 99% effective at preventing infection from sexual activity and 74% effective at preventing infection from the injection of drugs, according to the CDC.

Before a person can buy either drug, they are required to be tested for HIV or prove to the pharmacist that they were tested negative for it within the last week, according to NPR. Due to concerns of long-term use without a doctor's review, the bill limits the amount of PrEP people can buy independently to 60 days; after that, they are required to visit a primary care doctor, according to the AP.

"Recent breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of HIV can save lives," Newsom said in a statement. "All Californians deserve access to PrEP and PEP, two treatments that have transformed our fight against HIV and AIDS." About 30,000 people in California currently use PrEP and 6,000 use PEP, according to the California Health Benefits Review Program, the AP reported.

"I applaud the Legislature for taking action to expand access to these treatments and getting us closer to ending HIV and AIDS for good," Newsom added. 

Newsom also signed two other public health bills, one that lowers the cost of prescription drugs by not allowing drug manufacturers to block the making of cheaper generic drugs and another that requires health care providers caring for pregnant black women to undergo bias training.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.