A bill introduced in Colorado’s legislature would increase access to HIV prevention drugs by allowing pharmacists to dispense such medication without authorization from a physician.

The breakthrough drug Truvada was originally developed to treat HIV in already-infected patients but was later approved for use in at-risk patients in 2012 after research revealed it was highly effective at preventing HIV infection. Since then, Truvada, often referred to as the PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) pill, has only been available with a prescription.

The once-a-day pill is 99 percent effective at preventing the virus.

The new legislation would allow pharmacists to provide PrEP treatment after determining that the patient is HIV negative.

The proposed law would also require a pill that prevents infection in patients who may have already been exposed to the virus to be available at a pharmacy without a prescription.

The PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) pill can be taken within 72 hours of potential exposure to the virus in order to prevent infection. Advocates of the bill say that allowing the medication to be available at a pharmacy will help people who may have been exposed to the virus get the preventative treatment they need within that time window.

In addition, insurance companies would be prohibited from requiring patients to obtain authorization prior to using their benefits to get HIV prevention medication.

“This bill is essential in the fight to end the AIDS epidemic once and for all,” said state Rep. Alex Valdez (D-Denver), a prime sponsor of the bill, in a press release. “By increasing access to HIV prevention medications, we can reduce the rate of infection and ensure that at-risk Coloradans are protected against the virus.”

In 2019, Colorado saw a rise in the rate of HIV infected-persons in the state, along with a reduction in funding for state HIV prevention programs, according to a report from the Colorado Sun. That includes programs that help low-income and uninsured Coloradans afford PrEP medication, which can cost up to $13,000 a year.

“HIV disproportionately affects black, brown, and transgender communities, who already face disadvantages in accessing healthcare,” said state Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), also a prime sponsor of the bill. “This bill breaks down barriers and opens up HIV prevention medications to those who need it most.”

According to data from the Center for AIDS Research, Black men are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV than White men in Colorado. Black women are nearly 18 times as likely to be diagnosed with the virus compared to White women in the state.

An initial hearing for the bill is set for Friday, Jan. 31, in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.