Pharmacies Inaccurately Denying Plan B to Teens

January 26, 2012  |  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent decision to deny Plan B from being made available over the counter without age restrictions kept current regulations in place that allow 17-year-olds to readily pick up the morning after pill, while those 16 and under require a prescription. Some pharmacists seem to have missed the memo, though, as a recent study shows a decent number have denied the pill to teens who were of age.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center called 943 commercial pharmacies in five states using a caller who posed as a 17-year-old girl seeking emergency contraception after unprotected sex. Of the pharmacies that said they had emergency contraception available that day, 19 percent said the 17-year-old caller could not buy the emergency contraception under any circumstances; these pharmacists also usually hung up the phone quickly.

Misinformation was more common in poor neighborhoods with 23.7 percent of pharmacies in low-income neighborhoods telling the teenage caller she could not obtain emergency contraception at all, compared with 14.6 percent in other neighborhoods. While telling the teen that she needed a prescription would have still been inaccurate, it would have at least given her an opportunity to try to access the pill.

A little less than half of the pharmacies (44 percent) also gave the incorrect age at which a teenager can obtain emergency contraception without a prescription. Most of those who got it wrong said a person had to be older than 17 to obtain Plan B. In low-income neighborhoods, about 50 percent of pharmacies gave the incorrect age, compared to about 37 percent in other neighborhoods.

The researchers say in-person visits may have yielded different responses but that shouldn’t be the case. It’s no wonder teens are unclear about how to get pregnant, or not get pregnant, and prevent STDs—the medical professionals who are supposed to offer guidance don’t even know the answers. Next time a study questions why there are higher rates of these issues in low-income neighborhoods, they should delve deep into the lack of proper education not just for teens but for the professionals around them.

Are you surprised by this finding?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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