AIDS Healthcare Foundation Pres. Calls Truvada A “Party Drug”, Refuels Debate Over PrEP Meds

TruvadaLast week AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein described HIV prevention drug Truvada as a “party drug” in an article published by Associated Press.

That didn’t sit well with those who champion PrEP research which includes the use of the medication in curbing infection by focusing resources on those who aren’t infected.

And people like Michael Lucas and Andrew Sullivan have made their reactions very public.

In an op-ed for Out, Lucas wrote:

“In this man’s prurient imagination, gays are too busy enjoying their bareback orgies to be trusted with taking a once-daily pill. In his view, gay men using PrEP will stir up a frothy new drug-resistant strain of the virus. What evidence exists that this is a valid scientific concern? None. He has not even credited the fact that this form of prevention might and is being used by responsible gay men regardless of the sexual activity they are engaged in. Mr. Weisnstein’s anti-PrEP position is an extension of his long-standing anti-promiscuity crusade and more importantly his continuation of harmful shame tactics.”

The debate over the merits of Truvada is certainly an interesting one, but equating the drug with things like MDMA and Ketamine seems entirely unproductive, especially for the head of such a prominent organization in the field of HIV/AIDS resources.

Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog:

“I have to say I’m aghast by that attempt to stigmatize—yes, stigmatize—a medication that could prevent countless men from being infected with HIV. Think about it: if it were 1990 and the news emerged that—just by taking one pill a day—you could avoid ever getting infected with HIV, do you think there would be any debate at all? There would be lines around the block for it, huge publicity campaigns to get the amazing news out, celebrations in the streets, and huge relief for anyone not infected with the virus. Fast forward a quarter-century, and those taking this medication are actually demonized as ‘Truvada Whores.'”

Then again, Sullivan goes on to reason:

“The bottom line: if we can get a critical mass of gay men on either Truvada or retrovirals, we could soon reach a tipping point in which this virus could be wiped out in a generation.”

But how realistic is this vision? For those who don’t see themselves at high risk for contraction, would a critical mass be willing to go on an expensive once-daily lifelong prescription with serious side effects like liver damage? Seems like a tall order.

Still, PrEP research continues to yield promising results — some studies put the success of Truvada at 90 percent or higher, and with an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections per year in the U.S., that’s not a number to balk at.