SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Missouri has become the third state in the country to pass a law to help prevent HIV infection.
House Bill 476 allows anyone thinking they have been exposed to HIV to get emergency prevention medication at a pharmacy without a prescription.
The drug is called PEP, which is short for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. If the medication is taken within 72 hours of exposure, it’s highly effective at preventing an HIV infection.
Mallory Rusch, the executive director of Empower Missouri, said the law will eliminate huge barriers to access.
“I think it just makes it that much easier for patients who are at risk or feel that they were put at risk to know that they can just go right now, start their medicine, without having to worry about making appointments,” said Rusch.
Before this medication was available, patients would have less than three days to schedule an appointment and sit down with a doctor.
“You may be able to imagine how difficult it could be to get an appointment with a doctor within 72 hours, much less make an appointment, get an appointment, actually go to the doctor, and get to the pharmacy all within that window,” said Rusch.
This law doesn’t make PEP an over-the-counter drug, but you no longer need a prescription. This new process is similar to the way vaccines can be administered in pharmacies.
In Southwest Missouri, the AIDS Project of the Ozarks (APO) is treating about 600 people living with HIV.
“I think it opens the door for people to have better conversations about what their risks might be and get immediate medication if needed, and then be referred on for preventative care, for PREP services,” said Doctor Stephen Adams, with APO. “So we can get them in, and they won’t have to have another episode of taking PEP in the future.”
APO offers tests for things like HIV and STD and preventative medication, including PREP and PEP.
“I think it opens the door for people to have better conversations about what their risks might be, and then be referred on for preventative care, for PREP services so that we can get them in and they won’t have to have another episode of taking PEP in the future,” said Adams.
According to Adams, they just received federal funding to kick start a big education campaign in Southwest Missouri.