Pharmacies too often mislead on Plan B

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When it comes to dispensing inaccurate information about the Plan B One-Step morning after pill, many pharmacies are guilty as charged. In a rather disconcerting new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Boston Medical Center at the Boston University School of Medicine conducted an undercover survey in which they called over 940 pharmacies in five U.S. cities, posing as either 17-year-old girls or as physicians assisting these girls. In both cases, the callers asked about the availability and accessibility of emergency contraception.

Unfortunately, there was a large discrepancy between the answers the two groups received. Plan B is available without a prescription to women and teenage girls age 17 and over. Yet, while only 3 percent of the doctors were incorrectly told their teenage patients couldn t get the drug under any circumstances, 19 percent of the supposed 17-year-olds were given this erroneous information.

Furthermore, when these ostensible teenagers asked the pharmacy employees the minimum age for purchase of the pill, the employees answered that question incorrectly 43 percent of the time.

Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, the study s lead author, was shocked by the results. I think if you told an adolescent once that she couldn t get the medication, she probably wouldn t call another pharmacy. It would be the end of her attempts, she said.

And that s not good news, since about 750,000 girls age 15 to 19 become pregnant each year in the U.S., and about 85 percent of these pregnancies are unplanned.

Although the authors point out that, when teenagers call pharmacies, they may often get lower-level employees who may not have the most accurate knowledge, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross doesn t think this is a valid excuse. All pharmacy personnel, and especially ones who are distributing drug information, should be up-to-date on the latest treatments and therapies. At the very least, they should know to ask a pharmacist if they are unsure of the answer. He adds, Whether these young women were misled intentionally or by accident, the consequences are still awful. It s unfair and unprofessional for such misinformation to cause an instance of unprotected sex to result in a baby, often leading to disruption of the life and future of the young mother.