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Florida starts to set rules allowing pharmacists to prescribe emergency HIV prevention drugs

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Florida starts to set rules allowing pharmacists to prescribe emergency HIV prevention drugs

Jun 14, 2024 | 3:39 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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Florida starts to set rules allowing pharmacists to prescribe emergency HIV prevention drugs
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A Publix Super Market pharmacy manager. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida is joining the growing list of states that allow pharmacists to order and dispense HIV infection-prevention drugs, but it will still take months until any pharmacists are certified to provide that service.

Greater access to emergency HIV postexposure prophylaxis drugs, commonly known as PEP, could curb infections in the state, which has the third-highest rate of diagnosis in the country, according to recently published data from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.

Lawmakers unanimously passed HB 159, set to go into effect on July 1, and the Florida Board of Pharmacy has started the process of writing implementing regulations. So far, the board has created drafts of the paperwork needed to certify pharmacists and approve the courses pharmacists would have to take to safely dispense PEP.

Not as many people coming into the LGBT+ Center Orlando for HIV testing know about PEP as are aware of PrEP, a medicine that helps prevent infection in people at risk of contracting HIV, such as those whose partners have HIV, said Kenya Harris, the center’s chief health equity officer, in a phone interview with the Phoenix.

Still, Harris said, the law could produce significant benefits, especially for those who might be exposed to HIV on, say, a Friday and can’t see a physician over the weekend.

“So many pharmacies are open late night. There are 24-hour pharmacies,” she said. “So, the more pharmacists that are able to prescribe PEP, the more individuals are able to access it, and then the less individuals that may end up becoming HIV positive.”

Similar to emergency contraception, people must take PEP within a 72-hour window. The CDC recommends PEP for people who might have been exposed to HIV if their condom broke during sex, shared needles to inject drugs, or were sexually assaulted. Once prescribed, a person has to take PEP for 28 days.

In 2022, more than 200 Floridians took PEP, according to a Florida Department of Health report.

Florida is following 10 states that since 2018 have explicitly allowed pharmacists to prescribe HIV infection-prevention drugs, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.

During meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, board of pharmacy members voted to require the courses to train pharmacists to be at least two hours long. How many pharmacists can get certified to prescribe PEP depends on the number of courses the board approves.

Anyone could be affected

Although the Center Orlando and other LGBTQ+ groups in the state offer HIV testing, advocates emphasized that everyone needs to know how to access these medicines because HIV can affect anyone. Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s, misinformation that the disease only affected gay men led to stigma and discrimination, according to the World Health Organization.

“HIV and AIDS have been foundational issues for the LGBTQ community, but we also recognize that HIV is by no means limited to our community,” said Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for Equality Florida, in a phone interview with the Phoenix.

“In fact, some of the communities at need for education on HIV prevention are beyond the LGBTQ communities. This legislation is incredibly important because it will provide access to a critically important medication for reducing HIV transmissions in the state and ultimately ending the HIV epidemic in Florida.”

Men and women in Florida have contracted HIV through heterosexual sex at a higher rate than other ways, according to FDH data.