Will approving PrEP for teenagers encourage risky behavior? That’s the question researchers are asking in a studies across the country that focus on young people ages 15 to 22.
According to a report from NPR, researchers are reaching out to young people via health clinics, Facebook, and gay hookup apps like Grindr to study the behavior of young people on PrEP.
The main research questions are about adherence and changes in behavior.
“What we wanted to do was design a study where they could try to take this pill every day," psychologist Sybil Hosek, lead researcher of one of the studies funded by the National Institutes for Health told NPR, "And see whether, one, they were interested in taking it; two, if it was hard for them to take it; and three, how it impacted their sexual behavior."
A participant in CRUSH, a prevention project in Oakland, 18-year-old Leon Richardson, explained his initial debate over taking PrEP. As a young, gay black man, Richardson is in the demographic group with the fastest growing rate of HIV infection. But Richardson also explained his hesitation, referencing his mother’s concerns based on historically horrific treatment and experimentation on black Americans, while his HIV-positive grandfather was supportive of taking PrEP. In the end he decided to go for it.
"We had a long discussion about this drug and what the side effects could be, and he overall supported me totally," Richardson told NPR. "And it was kinda like, why not? Let me just try it."
Richardson’s statements expose a problem PrEP advocates may have in reaching African-American populations in the U.S., who surveys show are at increasing risk for HIV infection. Past studies have shown great difficulty in connecting HIV positive people with care while separate studies have shown that belief in conspiracy theories about HIV is more prevalent in the African-American community than in white and Latino communities, as reported by AIDS Map last month.
In addition, a 2011 study of 214 African-American men showed a belief in conspiracy theories is related non-adherence to ART.
An earlier study by Health and Human Services showed that 60 percent of young people adhere to PrEP treatment. Still, Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and outspoken critic of PrEP, claims that encouraging PrEP use will put them at greater risk for contracting HIV and that "expecting people to take a pill every day is not realistic."
Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy is that PrEP should not be prescribed to adolescents as the effects of PrEP on teens has not been studied yet. The CDC also continues the recommendation that PrEP be used in conjunction with condoms.