Eric Russell, 24, recently joined a health support group for young Latino and black gay men, where he learned about the HIV-prevention pill known as PrEP. He resisted the medication at first, convinced he didn’t need it and fearful that taking it would stigmatize him.
But after Russell learned more about PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, he decided it would be a good investment in his health. The Los Angeles man started taking the drug this year and now encourages other young minority men to do the same.
“A lot of people won’t necessarily tell you their [HIV] status,” said Russell, who is on Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income people. “You have to look out for yourself.”
Medicaid beneficiaries in California are taking the HIV-prevention pill in greater numbers than ever before. Across the United States, PrEP use is also rising significantly, according to data released this week. Blacks and Latinos, however, have been slow to embrace the medication even though HIV infection rates among them are much higher than among whites.
In California’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, the number of PrEP users rose from 79 in the first half of 2012 — the year the drug was first approved for preventive purposes — to 3,295 by the end of 2016, according to a report released last month by the California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers.
Nationally, the number of PrEP users rose from 8,768 in 2012 to 77,120 in 2016 — an average annual increase of 73 percent in each of those four years, according to new data released by AIDSVu.org, an HIV website run jointly by Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Gilead Sciences Inc., which manufactures the pill. Gilead told financial analysts in July 2017 that 136,000 people in the U.S. were taking PrEP, also known by its brand name, Truvada.