KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A new Missouri law will allow anyone to get emergency HIV medication at a pharmacy without a prescription.
The medication is called Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If taken within 72 hours of HIV exposure, and continued for the full 28-day regimen, there is a high likelihood that the person will not contract HIV, according to the CDC.
Once the new system is set up, anyone will be able to go to a participating pharmacy and request this emergency medication. The pharmacy will be partnered with a physician or other prescriber. Ideally, advocates say the patient will then make an appointment with that physician to discuss ways to avoid future emergencies.
Jon Martin, director of prevention services with Vivent Health, was one of the advocates who testified in front of Missouri lawmakers to get the bill passed. He says the goal is to make the medication available as quickly as possible to anyone who needs it.
"We frequently get calls from someone who is saying, 'Something terrible has happened. I need help, what is available?' and we tell them about post-exposure prophylaxis," he said. "It's so easy to prevent an HIV infection with this medication. And yet, one of the big issues is just access to the medication."
Many people obtain the medication through their doctor, but for those living in rural areas, or those without health insurance, getting the medication within that 72-hour window can be tough.
According to the CDC, Missouri is one of 26 states experiencing or at risk of experiencing an HIV outbreak. Missouri also has 13 of the 220 nationwide counties that are at highest risk of an outbreak.
"We hope it's going to help lower stigma around HIV, lower fear around HIV, and fear and stigma are some of the things that keep people from seeking out testing, from wanting to even know their status. They're afraid of the answer." Martin said. "But I think with PEP, we really need to do a better job at alerting the public that this is an option."
The CDC recommends taking PEP if:
- You have had unprotected sex with someone who might have HIV
- You shared needles while using drugs
- You were sexually assaulted
- You were exposed to blood from someone who might have HIV
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, the first and most important thing to do is try to get PEP within 72 hours of exposure.
The next step is to get an HIV test. They are available through doctor's offices, community health centers, or other community health organizations. Many pharmacies and community groups also offer at-home test kits.
If the test is positive, a doctor or community health organization can help you get on a regular regimen of medication to treat it.
Martin says, thanks to advancements in medication, most people with HIV can live long, healthy lives.
If the test is negative, you'll still want to talk to a doctor about getting a prescription for Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). That medication is taken regularly by anyone who may be at high risk for HIV exposure. You'll also want to talk to your doctor about methods to reduce your risk.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, or want more information on how to reduce your risk, there are several resources in the Kansas City area: