Pharmacy staff in the U.S. frequently misinform teen girls about whether they are allowed to buy the Plan B morning after pill, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Dr. Tracy Wilkinson, a pediatrician in Los Angeles and the study’s lead author, said she looked into how pharmacies responded to teens seeking Plan B after several of her patients told her “weird things about emergency contraception prescriptions.”
Wilkinson and other female researchers pretended to be 17-year-olds and called 940 pharmacies in five cities, including Nashville, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Austin, and Portland, Ore.
They said they wanted more information on the morning after pill.
At the time, Plan B was available without prescription to women 17 and older. Age requirement for the drug had not yet been modified.
“About 20 percent of the pharmacy staff said that, because the callers identified themselves as teens, the callers couldn’t get it at all. That’s completely incorrect,” Wilkinson said. “Of the remaining 80 percent of respondents, about half of them got the exact age requirement correct and half of them did not.”
Pharmacy staff often told girls they needed a parent or legal guardian with them to pick up the drug, which is false.
Some staff told the callers that they didn’t stock the drug due to ethical, institutional or personal religious beliefs.
Pediatricians called for the expansion of teen access to the morning after pill to reduce unplanned pregnancy in. In April, a federal judge ruled that Plan B should be available over the counter to all women of all ages.
Cora Collette Breuner, M.D., a pediatrician and member of the Committee for Adolescents of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that girls prepare themselves for hurdles at pharmacies.
She says young women should get an advance prescription for the generic form of emergency contraception from a pediatrician or clinic and get it filled when they need it.
“I try to emphasize that teens should have emergency contraception at home, just like they have Tylenol for a headache—don't wait until you need it to try and go get it,” echoed Wilkinson.
"Every time I go into a pharmacy, I see if Plan B is there without age restriction. And half of the time—or maybe even 80 percent of the time—it's not. That's against the law,” Breuner added.