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Empower Missouri is celebrating the passage of legislation that will expand access to a time-sensitive HIV medication.

Sen. Greg Razer (D-Jackson County, Senate District 07) and Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters, House District 105) introduced the legislation in their respective chambers, supported by Empower Missouri and the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition.

The legislation allows pharmacists to dispense post-exposure prophylaxis (often referred to as PEP) without a doctor’s prescription to anyone who fears that they might have been exposed to HIV. If the drug is taken within 72 hours after exposure, PEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV by over 80%.

The legislation specifies pharmacists must be authorized by a licensed doctor who determines the protocol to dispense the medication. This is a similar protocol that is in place for pharmacists who are authorized to administer vaccines.

“One of the goals of the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition is to ensure that all Missourians will have unfettered access to HIV testing and treatment," Empower Missouri’s Executive Director Mallory Rusch said. "The passage of this legislation is a huge step towards this goal and will have a measurable impact in reducing the spread of HIV in our communities. We’re proud that Missouri is now a national leader in the movement to expand access to PEP.”

HIV is still a problem in Missouri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 13 rural counties in Missouri as being vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV infection among people who inject drugs.

It’s one of seven states that the federal government is prioritizing in their effort to cut HIV transmission rates by 75% by 2025.

“While science has not yet found a way to cure HIV, we certainly have the tools at our disposal to end HIV [transmission] if we take the correct actions,” Christofanelli told Empower Missouri.

The bill now heads to Gov. Mike Parson. If signed into law, Missouri would become the third state in the country to allow pharmacists to dispense PEP over the counter at pharmacies.