Advancement in treatment doesn’t happen without bravery.

The first HIV medication, AZT, was approved by the FDA in 1987.  The medication was fast-tracked to market, and while it was life-saving for some, overall, the medication made many people incredibly sick and the treatment was often extremely toxic.  Fast forward to 2020, where there are over 45 HIV medications approved by the FDA, functions of the kidneys and liver are closely monitored, and the importance of being undetectible is not only reality, but also achievable.

Medications keep getting more and more effective, and it wouldn’t be possible without brave and incredible individuals willing to step forward for clinical trials to help scientists make advancements for all people living with HIV.

One of RipplePHX’s friends and volunteers is in full-swing of one such trial.  Meet Nick.

Nicolas Boles (or Nick) is a 34 year old man living with HIV who works every day with homeless individuals in our community to help them find safe and stable housing.  As if that wasn’t enough, Nick also volunteers with several HIV organizations in Phoenix to hand out condoms, talk about HIV prevention, reduce HIV stigma and he’s even completed training to be a volunteer HIV tester.  Originally from San Diego, Nick now calls Phoenix home and is participating in a highly-anticipated clinical trial related to long-acting injectable HIV treatment.

RipplePHX:  What made you decide to be a part of this study?

Nick:  I found an organization that helps people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS while living in Phoenix.  This group gave me a wealth of knowledge about HIV, how it affects my body and it also led me to this trial.  I noticed something on a whiteboard one day that said, “If you want to be in a clinical trail for HIV treatment, give this number a call.”  I’ve always been open-minded to something like that, so I called the number.  I talked to the person in charge, and she explained all the different trials happening, and the one that intrigued me the most was the long-acting HIV treatment.  The study had just started, so I had to wait for another study to start.  She got to know me pretty well because I’d call her a lot to ask “Hey, how’s it looking?  I’m still interested!”  I was one of the first people she contacted for the study I’m in today.

RipplePHX:  Tell us what it’s like to be a part of this trial?

Nick: It really hasn’t changed too much for me except it gives me the ability to live my life.  Because it’s a long-acting injectible, I’m not weighed down by taking medication every day or remembering to take it.  For me, having to take a pill every day was a struggle. It didn’t come naturally to me.  There were times I’d look at my pillbox on a Saturday and realize I hadn’t taken my medication that whole week.  There were times I double-dosed because I wasn’t sure whether I’d taken my medication or not.  So for me, the idea of putting an appointment on my calendar for an injection once a month sounded so much more realistic for me than taking a pill every day.  The long-acting treatment it is just so freeing for me.

RipplePHX:  We’ve noticed you have been more vocal about your status recently; can you tell us what that’s been like?

Nick:  Before, I use to hide my HIV status with people.  To me, it wasn’t any of their business.  But a good friend of mine was always so open about her status and it was an inspiration.  She gave me courage I didn’t think I had, and now, to share my story not only helps me but it helps break down stigma for other people too.  It feels good to be the most authentic self I can be. I don’t get scared anymore sharing my status – its almost like my superpower now.  I’m healthy, I’m strong, and I’m living with HIV.

RipplePHX:  If there is someone who is interested in getting into the injection study or to start using an injection for their HIV treatment routine, when does it become available?

Nick:  Currently, there aren’t any injectible HIV treatments that have been approved by the FDA, and this study is closed to new patients.  But if a person is interested in doing any treatment, they should definitely talk with their doctors.  While I can’t say the name of the trial I’m in yet, hopefully everything goes well and the drug will be available to the public in the next year or so.

Thank you for sharing your story with our community, Nick!!

Learn more about preparing our healthcare system for long-acting HIV treatments by reading this incredible article from The Body Pro.

Gather your list of questions and talk with your provider about your interest in trials or injectible treatments as they become available.  Keep in mind that every provider doesn’t specialize in every type of illness.  If you’d like to explore providers who specialize in HIV, find a list of Phoenix-area HIV specialty providers here.  Providers who speak Spanish or utilize a translation service are also noted.  All providers on this list serve patients who are either documented or undocumented.