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L.A. County Will Be Giving Out HIV-Prevention Drug Truvada

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The CDC says the drug is up to 92 percent effective when used correctly (Photo by CobraCZ via Shutterstock)
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Los Angeles will soon be distributing Truvada, an HIV-prevention drug, to at-risk residents.L.A. County supervisors voted yesterday to distribute HIV-prevention drug Truvada to those Los Angeles residents who are at a high risk of contracting HIV, the L.A. Times reports. The public health department must report back within 30 days with a plan for implementation.

Truvada contains two of the many drugs that HIV-positive patients take: tenofovir and emtricitabine. This means of prevention is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and according to the CDC, it can be up to 92 percent effective when taken correctly. If taken inconsistently, however, the efficacy is much lower. Federal guidelines recommend PReP for HIV-negative individuals who have a high risk of contracting HIV, such as those who are in relationships with HIV-positive partners. The CDC recommends those that take PReP still get tested for HIV every three months.

Currently, there are 60,000 people in L.A. county who are HIV-positive, and about 1,850 new infections each year. Many of those new patients are low-income men of color who are gay or bisexual.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who came up with the proposal, said that Truvada isn't a panacea, but it is a tool. "Together with other HIV prevention tools, it'll make it possible for us to dramatically reduce new HIV infections," she said. Kuehl, who was elected last year, is the first openly gay L.A. County Supervisor.

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Truvada has been criticized by Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who claims that users might not take the drug correctly or might stop using protection during sex once on Truvada. In the past, he has referred to Truvada as a "party drug." Weinstein previously helped to pass the law requiring porn performers in Los Angeles to wear condoms, a move that has mostly pushed the adult film industry out of Los Angeles or underground.

In a statement provided to Frontiers LA, Weinstein asked if it was responsible for L.A. County to implement a PrEP program "at a time when there are 24,000 people with HIV/AIDS living in the County who are currently not in medical care and on treatment." Weinstein mentioned the cost of Truvada—$13,000 per year, per patient—and that the program would not be abel to use any money from the federal Ryan White funds, which are only spent on individuals living with HIV or AIDS. Weinstein said that the focus and money should be spent on those 24,000 individuals instead, not the Truvada program. While Kuehl did acknowledge that the Ryan White funds cannot be used, she told Frontiers that other federal funds can be used, and that money will not be taken from any other existing programs.

PReP is not the same as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), which is a treatment that must be taken within 72 hours of an action where a person may have contracted HIV, such as sexual assault, unprotected sex or sharing a needle.