HIV Prevention Pill Offered to Opioid Users in Philadelphia

By Paul Gaita 05/28/19

A recent op-ed makes the case that Philly doctors should evaluate all medication-assisted treatment patients for PrEP. 

HIV Prevention Pill

An increase in the number of IV drug users infected with HIV in Philadelphia has spurred the city's health department to train medical providers in the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a pill that can prevent HIV infection.

An op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that making PrEP and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) available to this demographic could not only provide much-needed assistance to an at-risk population, but as the story's author noted, would also place Philadelphia at the forefront of helping to prevent the spread of HIV among that demographic. 

The Inquirer noted that while the overall number of new HIV cases has been on the decline since the mid-2000s, with current statistics showing that 19,199 Philadelphia residents live with HIV, the number of individuals who acquired HIV through IV drugs rose from 45 cases in 2017 to 61 in 2018.

The newspaper also cited a study by the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System, which linked the rise in new infections to a high number of sex workers in Philadelphia. According to the study's findings, 51% of women with new infections and 30% of male subjects had traded sex for money, drugs or other goods.

Coverage of the rise in cases by the Philadelphia Tribune found that city health agencies have increased education efforts regarding the use of PrEP among HIV patients. These include the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which trained doctors in areas with high rates of HIV about talking to their patients about the medication.  

The non-profit syringe exchange program Prevention Point worked directly with IV drug users to let them know about how to get PrEP. The Tribune piece noted that the emergency departments of Temple University Hospital and Episcopal Hospital offered screenings for HIV and STDs. 

The city's Federally Qualified Health Centers and many primary care physicians offer PrEP as well. If the patient is found to be HIV-positive, doctors at these hospitals, centers and practices work with the individual to begin immediate treatment with PrEP. The medication is fully covered by most health plans, and when taken under the supervision of a medical provider, has reportedly few to no side effects.

Despite this, the Inquirer op-ed noted that many local providers and treatment centers may not be aware of the availability of MAT with PrEP for HIV. The story advocated consistent referral of the medication to not only stem the tide of new cases, but to establish Philadelphia at the forefront of such treatment.

"These type of local emerging best practices offer a way bridging national policy, clinical guidelines, local contexts and patient choice," wrote the op-ed's author, Kevin Moore, who serves as director of care coordination at ARS Treatment Centers.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.