New California law expands access to HIV prevention drugs — No prescription needed

Californians who need access to HIV-prevention drugs will be able to obtain the medicine without first seeing a doctor under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed this week.

It’s intended to ensure can get access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) from a pharmacist, a change that health advocates described as “revolutionary.”

The law, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, also prohibits insurance companies from requiring prior authorization for patients looking to purchase PrEP.

“Recent breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of HIV can save lives,” Newsom said of signing SB 159. “All Californians deserve access to PrEP and PEP, two treatments that have transformed our fight against HIV and AIDS.”

The process of going through a doctor can be time-consuming and frustrating, particularly for members of the gay and transgender community, said Alejandro Contreras, health care services director at the Gender Health Center in Sacramento.

“Most queer folks have a better relationship with their pharmacist,” Contreras said. “To remove a whole system of red tape to get access to this medication is a huge step.”

Contreras said that this law will give pharmacists and pharmacies access to “a whole new population of folks that they didn’t have access to before.”

Clarmundo Sullivan, founder and CEO of Golden Rule Services, which provides HIV services to communities of color in Sacramento, praised the law, too.

For it to be effective, PEP must be taken within 72 hours, Sullivan said. This law will make it much easier for patients to get access to the drug in that window.

“That alone is revolutionary,” he said.

He called on California lawmakers to do more. Sullivan said lawmakers should work to eliminate the financial obstacles that prevent some from being able to access the drugs.

“It will be a glorious day ... for people to have free access to PrEP or PEP,” he said.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.