Drugs don’t equal safe sex

Antiretroviral drugs are gaining use as an HIV prevention, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively.

The swine flu might be the current “epidemic” on everyone’s mind, but there is another epidemic that won’t go away in the near future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 2.7 million new HIV infections occur globally each year.

In an effort to come up with new prevention strategies, the CDC is sponsoring clinical trials of pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, an antiretroviral drug used to prevent HIV infection for high-risk individuals. The problem is users are not simultaneously using condoms.

Instead of using the drug as an added measure in the event that a condom breaks, many gay men are omitting the use of condoms altogether, using PrEP by itself.  

As a gay man, I find this to be completely and utterly irresponsible of people in the gay population who are ripping apart safe sex practices to protect us from this horrible virus.  

Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, also known as tenofovir or its commercial brand name, Viread, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2001 as a preventative measure for HIV, and the combination pill, emtricitabine, was approved in 2004.

More than 200,000 HIV-infected people worldwide have used antiretroviral drugs, and although clinical trials are ongoing, they seem to be working.

But Dina Stonberg, coordinator of the Health Education Awareness Resource Team, said there is a large problem with PrEPs.

“We know the mechanics of how [PrEPs] work, but trials are still ongoing, and people can still get infected,” Stonberg said. “They are not easy to take, and they are expensive. Whose insurance is going to pay for them?” 

Despite the “no glove, no love” philosophy of sex, people are still getting infected, and a pill that gives people the excuse not to wear condoms is contributing to rising HIV infection rates, despite the fact that research has made significant strides in HIV/AIDS awareness.

Stonberg said rising infection rates are affected by the way people view HIV/AIDS as “a maintainable disease that you just take medication for.”

“People aren’t too scared of it anymore and they don’t think about how horrible the medications are to take,” she said.

Gay men underestimate the effects of HIV/AIDS.

 “Young gay men now don’t think about what it was like for gay men in the ‘80s,” Stonberg said. “As they grow to be more mature, the next generation doesn’t have that memory.” 

Aside from still being at risk for HIV infection, gay men should not use PrEPs alone. The drug doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections. This is what condoms are for. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re gay – everyone is at risk when it comes to HIV.

The only way we can truly prevent this monstrosity is to remain aware and have open communication with sexual partners and doctors.

Nothing, not even drugs like tenofovir or Viread, is fool proof. 

Joshua Fernandez can be reached at josh.fernandez@temple.edu.

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