Pharmacy staff frequently misinform teens seeking emergency contraception

December 20, 2013, Health Behavior News Service
Pharmacy staff frequently misinform teens seeking emergency contraception

Despite the fact that emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, has been available since 2003, many teens still face barriers to obtaining the medication, a safe and effective way to prevent up to 74 percent of pregnancies following the failure of birth control or after unprotected sex.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that pharmacy staff frequently give teens misleading or incorrect information about that may prevent them from getting the medication.

"I was having lots of teenagers telling me weird things about emergency contraception ," says lead study author Tracy Wilkinson, M.D., a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. She says that pharmacies might refuse to fill a prescription, confiscate a written prescription or even deny that an had been sent.

This led Wilkinson to investigate just what was happening at pharmacies when teens tried to purchase emergency contraception. Female researchers, posing as 17-year-old teens, called over 940 pharmacies in Nashville, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Austin, and Portland, Oregon and asked pharmacy staff basic questions about emergency contraception, including its availability, age requirements and confidentiality.

At the time of the study, the emergency contraception brand Plan B One Step was legally available to any person 17 years of age or older without a prescription, but was kept behind the pharmacy counter for purchase with a photo ID. Other brands of emergency contraception, including a generic form, were available by prescription for all teens and women.

"About 20 percent of the pharmacy staff said that, because the callers identified themselves as teens, the callers couldn't get [emergency contraception] at all. That's completely incorrect," says Wilkinson. "Of the remaining 80 percent of respondents, about half of them got the exact age requirement correct and half of them did not."

Additionally, the study found that pharmacy staff often cited ethical reasons, such as institutional policies and personal religious beliefs, for not stocking or dispensing emergency contraception. Pharmacy staff often inaccurately told callers a parent or legal guardian would need to accompany the teen to pick up the medication, or that an older friend or boyfriend couldn't buy the prescription for them.

The federal laws governing the dispensing of emergency contraception have changed since the study was published—and have become even more confusing, says Wilkinson. As of July 2013, Plan B One Step is now legally available over the counter to anyone of any age, and no photo ID is necessary. Other brands are either available to teens 17 or older at the pharmacy counter without a prescription, or to teens of any age with a prescription. One brand is available only by prescription, regardless of age.

Cora Collette Breuner, M.D., a pediatrician and member of the Committee for Adolescents of the American Academy of Pediatrics says, "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 says that one of the best ways for teens to avoid problems at pharmacies is to get an advance prescription for the generic form of emergency contraception from their pediatrician or clinic and get it filled.

Wilkinson echoes this advice: "I try to emphasize that 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."

Explore further: Researchers find misinformation about emergency contraception common in low-income neighborhoods

More information: Wilkinson TA, Vargas G, Fahey N, et al. "'I'll see what I can do': What adolescents experience when requesting emergency contraception." J Adolesc Health. 2013. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.10.002

Related Stories

Researchers find misinformation about emergency contraception common in low-income neighborhoods

December 19, 2011
Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found that in low-income neighborhoods, misinformation about access to emergency contraception is a common occurrence. These ...

US to allow morning-after pill for girls of any age

June 11, 2013
The Obama administration said Monday it would comply with a judge's order to allow women and girls of any age to purchase emergency contraception, ending its efforts to restrict the drug's availability.

Confusion about emergency contraception access common

March 26, 2012
(HealthDay) -- While most pharmacies report having emergency contraception (EC) in stock, misinformation regarding what age women can take it without a prescription is common, according to a study published online March 26 ...

The future of Plan B

May 14, 2013
The Obama administration and federal courts are wrangling over changes to the regulations governing access to emergency contraceptives. The administration supports new rules that would allow girls as young as 15 to purchase ...

ACOG to HHS: Reconsider age limit on plan B access

December 12, 2012
(HealthDay)—Physicians from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), together with other health organizations, are urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reconsider the ...

US court orders wider access for morning-after pill (Update 2)

April 5, 2013
After a decade-long battle over access to emergency contraception, a federal judge ordered US regulators Friday to make the morning-after pill available over the counter without age limits.

Recommended for you

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.