Friday, October 28, 2016

Why HIV Medical Treatment Guidelines Matter

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

As with all chronic diseases and conditions the approved medical treatment guidelines serve as an important marker, not only for patients and the medical professionals who treat them, but also the payors. This is certainly no different with HIV/AIDS. That is why the ADAP Advocacy Association is calling on the Health Resources and Services Administration ("HRSA") at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to update its treatment guidelines for HIV-associated lipodystrophy. HRSA's current guidelines need to correct a statement regarding growth hormone-releasing factor, because it does not accurately reflect the available treatment to patients suffering from lipodystrophy disease.

According to WebMD, "Lipodystrophy is a problem with the way the body produces, uses, and stores fat. It is also called fat redistribution. Since the widespread use of antiretroviral therapy began, the numbers of HIV-positive people with lipodystrophy has increased. Today, lipodystrophy occurs in 30% to 50% of people who are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)."[1]

The ADAP Advocacy Association has increasingly supported educational initiatives aimed at tackling HIV-related co-mordibities, as well as HIV-related stigma. Combatting lipodystrophy falls under both categories. Researchers have concluded lipodystrophy is associated with increased rates of hypertension, diabetes, and lipids for patients experiencing lipodystrophy. Furthermore, long term psychological affects are present among patients, especially among those patients age 65 and older.[2]

Lipodystrophy is more than a cosmetic issue, especially for the HIV-positive patients living with the disease. For example, people living with HIV often believe the doughy fat around their midsection can be addressed by a healthy diet and exercise alone. But diet and exercise may not be enough to combat the challenges associated with visceral adipose tissue ("VAT"). The "Don’t Take VAT" website – – includes fact sheets about VAT and healthy living with HIV, as well as a video that provides a deeper look at VAT and tips about what to ask your doctor.

[Editor's Note: Read our related blog, "HIV-Related Belly Fat: More Than Just an Appearance Issue"]

But more needs to be done, frankly!

In 2010, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration ("FDA") approved Tesamorelin (trade name Egrifta) as treatment for lipodystrophy. Whereas some private health insurance plans cover this treatment option, public payors mostly don't cover it. Only three State AIDS Drug Assistance Programs ("ADAP") include Tesamorelin on its approved drug formulary, including Minnesota (though it requires a prior authorization), New Jersey, and Washington State. Not a single Medicaid program includes Tesamorelin on its Preferred Drug List ("PDL"). By restricting access to an FDA-approved treatment represents a disservice to the patients suffering from HIV-associated lipodystrophy.

Ironically, some states cite "cost" as the prohibitive factor for the reason lipodystrophy treatment isn't added to their approved drug formulary or PDL. Yet, other costly (and still needed) supports and services are covered -- such as counseling, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.

DENIED: Treatment for Lipodystrophy
Photo Source: GLAD
That is why HRSA should update its "Guide for HIV/AIDS Clinical Care." It would provide better guidance for ADAPs nationwide seeking the necessary budgetary justification for adding Tesamorelin to its approved drug formulary. It is the only treatment available to these patients, and they are crying out for help! To read the draft letter to HRSA requesting an update to the medical treatment guidelines, CLICK HERE.

This effort shouldn't be interpreted as an endorsement of the particular product, Tesamorelin. The simple fact is Tesamorelin is the only product on the market approved by the FDA used in the treatment of HIV-associated lipodystrophy. Talk to patients who are living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy, and listen to their stories about the physical discomfort associated with the disease, or the stigma that they encounter on a daily basis living with the physical disformity caused by the disease.

Massachusetts is already leading the way to improve access to care and treatment for people living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy. The Treat Lipodystrophy Coalition fought tirelessly for the law to require insurance coverage for treatment of a debilitating and disfiguring side effect of HIV medications. Patients living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy are now demanding the same be done with public payors, such as ADAP and Medicaid.

Summarized Carl Sciortino, executive director for the AIDS Action Committee, and former representative in the Massachusetts Legislature who introduced the aforementioned legislation: "Some of our long-term survivors carrying the physical scars of earlier life-saving treatments have been denied the dignity and medical treatment they are entitled to for far too long. Lipodystrophy affects our veterans, and as a country we have effectively turned our backs on their need to treat their epidemic-inflicted wounds. I'm proud of our step forward in providing insurance coverage in Massachusetts, and I'm grateful for any interest it sparks in providing care to people living with HIV across the country."

To endorse this effort by adding your organization to the ADAP Advocacy Association's national sign-on letter, CLICK HERE. The deadline for signing on to the letter is COB on Monday, November 7, 2016.

[1] WebMD, "Lipodystrophy and HIV," 2016; available online at
[2] Mascolini, Mark, "HIV Drug Therapy, Glasgow Oct 23-26 2016," NATAP, 2016; available online at

Friday, October 7, 2016

How North Carolina Legalized Syringe Exchange Programs

By: Tessie Castillo, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

In July 2016, North Carolina accomplished what many said could never be done – we legalized syringe exchange programs, which are proven to lower HIV and hepatitis C rates among people who inject drugs.

It took many years of planning and effort, as well as strategic partnerships with a variety of stakeholders to move the needle on this issue. We’d like to share a few of the strategies that worked well so that other advocates hoping to change hearts and minds on HIV prevention and harm reduction issues can use the lessons we have learned.

1. Craft a clear, concise message and choose the right messenger. The message around syringe exchange programs (SEPs) is pretty simple:
  • SEPs lower HIV and hep C for the community;
  • SEPs are a portal to treatment for people who are marginalized from health care and recovery programs; and
  • SEPs lower needle-stick injury to LEOs by 66%.

We hammered home these three points in presentations, OpEds, media interviews, conversations with stakeholders, and everywhere else we could think of. Choosing the messenger required a bit more work. Since law enforcement had been the biggest opponent to syringe exchange programs in previous years, they were the perfect messengers.

We began setting up meetings with Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs, focusing primarily on those who had or wanted to start naloxone programs, since they seemed more sympathetic to nontraditional approaches to problems associated with drug use. After explaining our three points above, the majority (about 90%) of the law enforcement we talked to agreed that SEPs were a good idea. We asked them for a 2-3 sentence quote on why they supported SEPs and compiled all the quotes onto one page, which we presented during every meeting with every legislator over the next few months. This quote sheet was magic. MAGIC. It was the number one thing that took legislators from opposed or squeamish about syringe exchange programs to fully on board. It also neutralized opposition from law enforcement lobby groups, who had previously been vocally opposed to syringe exchange programs.

2. Choose the appropriate legislative sponsor. Legislative sponsors, the people who actually introduce your bill into the House or Senate, are very important. One of the ugly truths of politics is that so many bills go through the legislature per session, legislators don’t have time to read them all. Often, they just look at the bill sponsor. If it is someone they respect and usually agree with, they will vote for the bill. Knowing this, we carefully selected our bill sponsors as people who were from the majority party and trusted among their peers.

3. Create a list of target legislators and convince them to support the bill. Months before the start of session, we sat down with our primary bill sponsor and created a list of legislators who were likely to influence our bill because:
  • They were the chairs of committees the bill would likely go through;
  • They were well-known for legislation on drug/medical issues;
  • They were likely to oppose the bill and others listen to them;
  • They have a lot of influence at the legislature; and/or
  • They have a medical/law enforcement background.

The goal was to have these legislators on our side, or at least not opposed to the bill, prior to the start of session. As mentioned above, legislators tend to follow the votes of other people they respect. If you can find and convince these few influential legislators, you have the votes of a lot of others as well.

After getting a list of target legislators (only about four) from our sponsor, we created strategies to seek their support for the bill. We flooded their newspapers with OpEds and articles in favor of syringe exchange. We sat down with the Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs in their district to get quotes for our quote sheet. We met with their health directors, heads of drug treatment centers and pastors from the larger churches. It was not until we had a robust group of influential constituent supporters that we reached out to the actual legislators. This process took months of work, but it was well worth the effort. We invited the targeted legislators to meetings attended by all the supporters we had cultivated in their districts so that they could hear from their own constituents why SEPs are a good idea. The outcome of the meeting was usually decided before the legislator even walked in the door.

4. After introducing the bill, don’t slack on the leg work. By the time the legislative session actually started, we were in pretty good shape. Our law enforcement quote sheet was growing and working wonders. We had also successfully convinced the majority of our target legislators to support the bill. Once the bill was actually introduced, the rest was leg work – we met with the legislators on every committee that the bill went through to ask them to vote for the bill. We created informational flyers that we passed out to all other legislators. We urged constituents through listserv emails to contact their legislators and ask for their vote. When problems came up and the bill stalled, as it did many times, we kept urging the legislators, especially the sponsors and key supporters, to keep trying and asked our listserv allies to keep making calls. (There is a fine line between being persistent and being pushy, but we tried not the cross that line).

Eventually, the work paid off. In July 2016, Governor McCrory signed the first law legalizing syringe exchange programs in North Carolina. In just two months, over a dozen syringe exchange programs have popped up all over the state and more organizations are coming forward expressing interest in starting one. Hopefully advocates in other states can learn from NC and succeed in their own campaigns to legalize syringe exchange programs.

That’s the bare bones explanation of how we legalized syringe exchange programs in North Carolina. Click here for a more narrative version of the process.

Fact sheets and other materials to help advocate for syringe exchange programs (including the law enforcement quote sheet) are available here:


Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.