This summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new approach to tackling the HIV epidemic in the state, and part of it includes increasing access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PREP, medication to individuals who are considered at high risk of contracting HIV. NY1's Erin Billups took a closer look at the drug and filed the following report.
It's known as the gay man's birth control. Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, medication, can prevent the contraction of HIV.
Andy Tonken is on the once-a-day pill. He says it's offered him a sense of calm.
"The chances that somebody says that they're HIV-negative, but have had a test in the last three months, are actually quite low. So finding out that somebody is HIV negative doesn't necessarily mean anything to me," Tonken says.
Tonken's doctor at Mount Sinai's Roosevelt Hospital, Demetre Daskalakis, will soon take up the post as the city's new chief of HIV Prevention and Control. He says the governor's promotion of the drug as a useful tool to help bring down the number of HIV infections is forward thinking.
"There's a cost that's incurred, by using the drug, but that ultimately, it's a cost we're willing to pay as a society to prevent HIV," Daskalakis says.
Daskalakis says it costs about $1.5 million to treat a person infected with HIV over a lifetime. The FDA-approved Truvada is proven to work well when taken as instructed, not just for gay men, but for any one who is at higher risk.
"What Truvada does in someone who's HIV-negative is, in effect, create a chemical shield in their cells to disallow HIV from replicating."
But the governor's plan to promote the pill was not welcome news by everyone. There's concern that PreP will lead to greater promiscuity and a rise in sexually transmitted infections.
Daskalakis argues that studies showed no change in behavior. Tonken says that's true for him.
"I still am as picky about who I engage in physical interactions with," he says. "But I would also say that part of being on Truvada is preventing the transmission of the STD that is of utmost concern to me."
Daskalakis says Truvada users are forced to see their doctor regularly, which could contribute to a rise in reported STDs.
"I think that Truvada is a gateway drug to primary care," he says. "It's a way to say I have something to offer you beyond saying, 'You use condoms, right?'"
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