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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri is set to become just the third state in the nation to make an emergency HIV preventative medication available without a doctor’s prescription.

The medicine is called PEP, short for post-exposure prophylaxis. If taken within 72 hours of exposure, it’s highly effective in preventing HIV.

Missouri’s general assembly passed a bill that would make PEP available over the counter at pharmacies that have established protocols with a licensed physician.

“If we can get this this medicine into people in that 72 hour window, then they will not be HIV positive for the rest of their life,” said Senator Greg Razer, who sponsored the legislation.

He says HIV is still a problem in Missouri and other parts of the country, but many people may not think of it as a health crisis because preventatives and treatments have become better over time.

“As we’re dealing with the COVID pandemic, I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is the first great pandemic since the flu of 1918 and that’s just not true. AIDS hit us in 1980, 1981 and it’s still something we’re dealing with.”

In fact, 13 counties in Missouri are identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 percent by 2025.

Access to PEP is a problem, specifically in rural areas, according to Mallory Rusch with Empower Missouri, an advocacy organization that works to increase healthcare access.

“Because there’s still this stigma attached with it [HIV] people might be really hesitant to go see a doctor. They might be really nervous about being tested. It might be really hard for them to get an appointment where there are less doctors, less hospitals, less medical offices in rural communities.”

If signed into law by Governor Parson, Missouri would become the third state in the nation where PEP is available over the counter at pharmacies.

California and Colorado both enacted legislation to make PEP available over the counter last year.