California OKs pharmacists to dispense HIV prevention medications

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Monday signed legislation enabling pharmacists in the state to dispense HIV prevention drugs to patients without a doctor's prescription. Advocates of Senate Bill 159 say California is the first state to authorize pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) without prescriptions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Monday signed legislation enabling pharmacists in the state to dispense HIV prevention drugs to patients without a doctor's prescription. Advocates of Senate Bill 159 say California is the first state to authorize pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) without prescriptions. PrEP is a once-daily tablet for those who are HIV-negative, while PEP is a medication that people take to prevent the virus from taking hold. Supporters say PEP significantly reduces the risk of infection, but only if started within 72 hours of exposure to the virus. Not everyone can get to a doctor in that time frame, notes Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. "The ability to go into a pharmacy to avail themselves of the medication is a huge improvement to removing a barrier," he says, adding that the law will greatly improve access and help reduce the stigma around the drugs, especially in rural areas and among minorities. Nearly 30,000 people in California use PrEP and 6,000 use PEP, according to the California Health Benefits Review Program.