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Plan B: Pharmacies Say ‘No’ To Teen Girls Even When Law Says Yes

Bad news for all the people who were upset at the Obama administration’s decision earlier this month requiring that teenage girls have a prescription to get the “Plan B” emergency contraceptive:

New research suggests that the broader context for that decision is even more troubling than previously known. It finds that many pharmacy staffers are blocking teen girls’ access to the “morning-after” pill even when the teenagers have a legal right to it. And those barriers are particularly bad in poor neighborhoods, where unintended pregnancies are especially common.

Lead researcher Dr. Tracey Wilkinson

“There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding regarding this medication, and that’s universal,” said Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, a general pediatrics fellow at Boston Medical Center and lead author of a research letter just out online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “We have a really efficacious form of pregnancy prevention that might not be accessible because of misinformation that’s out there.”

The Dec. 7 Obama administration decision concerned over-the-counter access to Plan B for girls under 17, but the research by Dr. Wilkinson’s team found that even for young women 17 and up, and even for teen girls who have a prescription, getting hold of emergency contraception can be a problem. The administration’s decision was disappointing, she said, but the study found that “even the way things stand is not working.”

The researchers called 943 pharmacies in five different cities — Nashville; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon — in late 2010, a solid year after the FDA had lowered the age of permission for over-the-counter access to 17. (Younger girls can also obtain emergency contraception but need a prescription.) Continue reading