Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP is taken by patients before coming into contact with HIV-1 in order to practice safe sex. TRUVADA is the actual medication taken by people, every day, to ensure safety from HIV. Patients must be HIV-negative before taking Truvada for PrEP, which is one pill a day. On top of the pill, condoms, conversations with partners, and regular testing can all decrease a person’s chances of contracting HIV by 90 percent.
In 2012, the FDA approved Truvada which includes “two medicines in one: Emtriva and Viread.” An iPrEx study found that PrEP is most effective for people who take seven pills a week, but even people who take two pills a week see 76 percent protection. For the LGBTQ community, PrEP has paved a new peace of mind when participating in responsible sex. Posters, fliers, pamphlets, commercials, etc., have all advertised PrEP as being revolutionary. And it is. Its success rate is exemplified in the numbers and people have come forward explaining that PrEP has eradicated anxieties and fears around HIV and AIDS.
Truvada users must 1) be HIV negative; 2) take it every day, not just when you may have exposure; 3) if you do become HIV positive, you must take Truvada in combination with another drug.
Other HIV drugs that are currently being studied for PrEP are Maraviroc, Rilpivirine, Dapivirine, and Tenofovir. In 2018, lawsuits were filed against Gilead Medicine, which focuses on antiviral drugs to treat HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and influenza. The lawsuits claimed that there is a safer HIV drug available but the drug company has refrained from releasing it in order to keep their multi-billion dollar patent. The most common side effects of PrEP drugs are headaches, stomach aches, and decreased weight. More serious issues are kidney problems, including kidney failure, too much lactic acid in the blood, serious liver problems, and bone pain, softening, and fractures.
Almost 6,000 bone breaks have been linked to the drug. A study found that bone mineral density “declines by 2–6% in the first two years of Truvada treatment.”
Gilead was apparently aware of the serious side effects of Truvada and tested a new formula of tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) that is not linked to the same kidney and bone risks. However, in the early 2000s, any development of this drug stopped until 2010. During this time, people were exposed to ten years of bone and kidney complications.
The patent timespan and sales were extended and resulted in Gilead earning over 18 billion dollars in 2015. The so-called “miracle drug” has come with reparations and consequences in order to serve a long term profit.
The company was aware from their own studies that the drug prescribed was “highly toxic” and resulted in “possible fatal damage to the kidneys and bones.” The injury claims include 1) Strict products liability-design defect and failure to warn; 2) Negligent products liability-design defect and failure to warn; 3) Breach of implied warranty, and; 4) Breach of express warranty.
Tim Horn, MS, and deputy executive director of HIV and HCV programs at Treatment Action Group says, “When Truvada comes off patent in 2021, I think we can fully expect there to be a lot of competition,” as more generic brands will begin to surface.
The drug company placed patients in a compromising condition. Options for many people were to participate in PrEP and reap the consequences or don’t participate and also reap health consequences as well as anxiety and stress. It is without a doubt that PrEP and the accompanying drugs are life changing-people have been relieved of any worry surrounding HIV and AIDS and can live a fulfilling and healthy sex life.
S. Nicole Lane
S. Nicole Lane is a freelance journalist based in the Southside of Chicago where she covers women’s health, the LGBTQ voice, arts, and entertainment. Her byline can be found in Playboy, Rewire News, i-D, Broadly and various other corners of the internet. She is also a visual artist who works with small-scale sculptures.