Senate Passes Important Legislation to Increase Access to HIV Prevention Medication

Bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP),
which is highly effective in preventing HIV

(BOSTON – 06/30/2022) Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed legislation which would increase access to the life-saving HIV prevention medication pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP, by allowing pharmacists to prescribe it to patients on a short-term basis. This important bill, which was passed on the last day of Pride Month, will support the Commonwealth’s efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV, which continues to disproportionately affect members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, and low-income individuals.

“This legislation is such an important step to confronting the HIV epidemic in Massachusetts,” said Senator Friedman, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “The bill safely expands access to a proven medicine that greatly reduces the risk of HIV transmission and breaks down barriers to access, especially among gay and bisexual men of color. I was proud to support this bill in the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and on the Senate floor.”

According to the CDC, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use by about 99 percent when taken as prescribed and does not have serious side effects. Despite the availability of this highly effective HIV prevention medication, the CDC reports that only around 25 per cent of the individuals who are recommended to take PrEP currently do so.

Currently, Massachusetts residents must receive a doctor’s prescription to obtain PrEP. By allowing PrEP to be prescribed by a pharmacist, individuals who are at heightened risk of HIV transmission will be able to more easily and more quickly obtain this life-saving medication. Under the bill, pharmacists would be allowed to dispense up to 60-day supplies of PrEP to individual patients. The bill requires that pharmacists who prescribe PrEP work with the patient’s primary care provider to ensure that the patient receives ongoing support.

This bill aligns Massachusetts with nine other states that have already empowered pharmacists to prescribe PrEP. Peer-reviewed academic studies have recommended the adoption of this policy, and in Massachusetts this proposal has been championed by providers that serve the LGBTQIA+ population.

While new HIV cases have declined considerably in Massachusetts, there continue to be hundreds of new cases each year. According to statistics collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), in 2019 a total of 591 Massachusetts residents were diagnosed with a new HIV infection. As of that year, DPH reported that a total of 23,291 Massachusetts residents were living with HIV.

The Senate also passed a bill that would repeal archaic laws that intrude on an individual’s privacy regarding sexual activity. The bill would remove existing statutes that criminalize sodomy and so-called ‘unnatural’ acts between consenting adults. The passage of this bill comes on the last day of Pride Month and follows the concurring opinion of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the Dobbs v. Jackson decision in which Justice Thomas suggested that the Court could revisit case law banning the criminal prosecution of sodomy. In addition, the bill would continue the process of modernizing the Commonwealth’s laws by establishing a permanent law revision commission with the power to recommend laws for repeal to the legislature.

Having passed the Senate, the legislation expanding access to PrEP now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.