Illinois pharmacies could soon dispense HIV prevention medications

A poster for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, at Central Illinois Friends in Peoria.
A poster for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, at Central Illinois Friends in Peoria.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 4:18 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois is set to become the eighth state to allow pharmacists to dispense drugs preventing HIV. Advocates say a plan that passed out of the Illinois Senate and House could increase access to lifesaving medication.

People typically need to go to an HIV care provider in order to get pre or post-exposure prophylaxis treatment, and that’s a barrier to many in Black and brown communities. Unfortunately, only 31% of people in Illinois who might benefit from PrEP receive a prescription.

This bill could allow pharmacists to provide medication and care to people without them having to visit a doctor. Advocates say it will also help pharmacies refer people to ongoing preventative care and further tests to understand if PrEP or PEP is a good option.

Timothy Jackson with AIDS Foundation Chicago says this would not be a mandate for pharmacists.

“It has to be done under a standing order of a licensed physician or county health department,” Jackson said. “So we’re going to be providing pharmacists that may be interested in doing this or may be interested in going through the training, but also linking them to local providers.”

2019 data from the Illinois Department of Public Health show 9,072 Black men were living with diagnosed HIV, representing a quarter of HIV-positive people in Illinois. Meanwhile, that same report found 4,538 Black women were living with HIV, making up roughly 13% of Illinoisans diagnosed with HIV.

Many hope this proposal can help Illinois reach zero new cases of HIV by 2030. Sponsors argue the legislation could specifically reduce transmission for Black women, people in the LGBTQ community, and anyone without health insurance. Jackson stressed that HIV can impact all genders, ages, and racial groups.

“We talk about PrEP in a very abstract way and a lot of times PrEP is geared mainly towards the LGBTQ community. But it’s so incorrect,” Jackson said. “PrEP is for anyone who is currently having sex. Period.”

Pharmacists could also give patients a list of primary health care providers and local clinics if they don’t have a physician. The plan gained support from medical providers, HIV advocacy groups, and Equality Illinois among dozens of others.

“The passing of House Bill 4430 is momentous as we are truly changing lives and circumstances for many Illinoisans who’ve been too often left out and left behind,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago). “This win exemplifies our power to change once we engage the whole community, from medical providers to community advocates.”

This plan passed out of the Senate on a 37-12 vote on April 1. The House later approved the bill on a 72-30 vote on April 7.

“This bill will cut down on waiting times and provide potentially life-saving care to thousands of Illinoisans,” said Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago).

Jackson said it’s unfortunate that more Republicans couldn’t support the plan to help have equitable access to care for many in their districts. Although, he noted the current political climate has led to many concerning debates.

“Everything is so divisive,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen the laws taking place in Florida and Texas, Alabama, and many others. It really doesn’t help that it’s election season. Unfortunately, we had some people that made some ridiculous statements about what this bill does and its purpose. But we had some champions that stood up on both sides of the aisle.”

Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Seth Lewis (R-Bartlett) were the only Republicans in either chamber to support the proposal.

House Bill 4430 should arrive on Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk soon. The plan would take effect on January 1, 2023, if Pritzker signs it into law.

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