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Choosing a Pharmacy. Because it matters.

Oftentimes, when doing HIV work, we can get so focused on the treatment and prevention of the virus to the point that we forget about all the things outside of HIV that also need to be discussed. Homelessness, financial stability, relationships, friendships, family, and so much more becomes a part of the process of a person’s new normal. However, there are also some smaller things that people forget to think about upon initial diagnosis, such as where to keep medication if you don’t live alone, adherence to meds, and - an early concern for me - where to go to pick up your medication.

One thing that I have always been careful about, especially early on in my process of HIV treatment, was where I picked up my medication because I was always so nervous about what people would think about me. Going to pick up my medication and the person behind the counter knowing exactly why I take it used to be a chief concern of mine; a stigma that made it hard for me early on to accept the diagnosis I had been given. It wasn’t as much about having HIV as it was worrying about folks who may find out that I had the virus. Having to go to the doctor quarterly was a fear of mine, too, as was thinking of taking medication that I would have to hide from my roommates.

Because of this, I know it’s important that we start to discuss the ways in which stigma shows up in even the smallest areas of life. I think about women who have to get the “morning-after pill” and some of the scrutiny they have received from pro-life pharmacists who have tried to deter women from using it. Could you imagine an anti-LGBTQ pharmacist dispensing HIV medication to a large LGBTQ population and the uncomfortableness this could cause?

Questions about if you know how to use the medication would turn into accusations and shaming of your status. Things that once seemed to lie under the surface have begun to see the light as the Trump Administration has continued its attack against marginalized communities, especially that of HIV. So, it has become more important than ever that treatment and prevention take into consideration all facets of where discrimination and stigma can occur when we talk about what the next years of fighting the virus will look like.

With that said, when choosing a pharmacy for either ART or PrEP, it is important that you are most comfortable in that environment.

For me, I choose to use the pharmacy that is connected to my provider. It feels more comfortable for me, as the primary customers are people who are either HIV-positive or on PrEP. The environment is one that is welcoming, where I am not fearful of who I see or who sees me. It helps to remove the shame that used to come from me picking up my medication, as the people in the facility all grew to know me by name and I formed friendly relationships with them.

Another option that many choose is having their medications mailed to them. When I first began treatment, this was the option that I chose. I removed myself from the environment that I feared early on when I thought I would potentially run into people that I knew. Having my medication delivered to me made it much easier that first year of treatment as I dealt with the other things like telling my friends, my family, the public and becoming more comfortable with my new life.

Major brands like Walgreen’s and CVS have pharmacy locations as well, and many opt for using them. I remember this was the most fearful place for me. Running into a friend or someone while standing at the pharmacy counter was something I wasn’t ready to deal with. I also have many friends who were working as pharmacy techs and pharmacists and that was the last thing I wanted to explain to them when I walked up to the counter. I’m much more comfortable receiving my medication from places like these, but it is important for doctors and practitioners to have these conversations with patients because sometimes something as simple as picking up medicine can be a barrier for many people.

The main thing I want to point out is that there are various options now, so no one should feel worried about getting their meds, and they should be prepared to ask questions about the options they have to receive their meds. It’s most important that when a person is starting treatment, whether ART or PrEP, that stigma is removed to help ensure adherence.