Truvada drug debated by health experts, potential users

(WJLA) - Thirty-year-old Kyle Murphy works in HIV advocacy, and hopes that participating in a Whitman Walker Health clinical research project will reduce the stigma surrounding the drug, Truvada.

"I am a sexually active gay man who is single, so obviously I need to take every precaution that I can," he says. "People assume that if you're taking it you have to be promiscuous or you have to be a sex worker. But I view it as just an extra step that you can take -- it's sort of like taking your vitamin in the morning."

Murphy is one of the 100 men in this “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or “PrEP” study, funded by the AIDS division at NIH and the Truvada manufacturer, Gilead.

"The levels that that drug builds up in the bloodstream and in certain parts of the body that may be exposed to HIV seems to be high enough that in patients who actually take their medicine on a regular basis, it's effective 97 to 99-percent of the time," says Dr. Richard Elion, the Director of Clinical Research at Whitman Walker Health.

But some critics – including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – worry the drug, if not taken properly, will result in less condom use and more HIV transmission:

"We're concerned about the public health implications and also the cultural implications. The idea that hundreds of thousands of gay men taking this medication is going to bring down infection rates is just a fallacy."

"We would not have 50 to 60,000 new cases each year if everybody was using condoms," says Dr. Elion. "Do I think it is a good idea to use condoms? It's a great idea. Does everybody do it? No way."

In the local gay community, most seem to support PrEP drugs.

"Any kind of protection would be good," says Arlington resident Joshua Swain. "Any argument against it would be like arguing against condom use because it would increase sexual activity."

"I think it's a good thing for people with a partner who is infected," adds Eligio Aguirre.

Murphy says he still uses condoms, and that when the study ends, he’s not sure how long he’ll use Truvada. For now, he likes the peace of mind:

"If you have a slip-up, if you make a mistake, it's just an added level of security and safety."