Pharmacists Frequently Give Incorrect Information About Emergency Contraceptives

Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Published Online: Thursday, April 26, 2012
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Pharmacists gave incorrect information about the availability of emergency contraceptives to 1 in 5 callers whom they believed to be 17-year-old girls.

In most states, emergency contraceptives such as Plan B are supposed to be available without a prescription to patients 17 years and older. However, researchers recently reported that pharmacists gave incorrect information about the contraceptives’ availability to 1 in 5 callers whom they believed to be 17-year-old girls. Their results were published in the April 1, 2012, edition of Pediatrics.
 
A research team at Boston University headed by Tracey Wilkinson, MD, MPH, called 943 pharmacies in 5 US cities—Nashville, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Austin, and Portland, Oregon—to inquire about the availability of emergency contraceptives, pretending to be 17-year-old girls or doctors calling on their behalf. Approximately 80% of the pharmacies told the callers—both physicians and adolescents—that the contraceptives were in stock. Employees at 19% of these pharmacies told adolescent callers that they could not obtain the contraceptives. By contrast, just 3% of the physician callers were told that their 17-year-old patients could not receive the contraceptives. At approximately 1 in 3 of the pharmacies that did not have the contraceptives in stock, employees did not suggest another option to either the adolescent or the physician callers. Finally, when asked what the minimum age was to receive emergency contraceptives without a prescription, pharmacy employees gave the correct response of 17 years to 57% of adolescent callers and 61% of physician callers.
 
Given the time-sensitive nature of emergency contraceptives, providing correct information about how to access them is crucial. Pharmacists should ensure that they are familiar with their state’s regulations. The following states allow pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives even if the patient is younger than 17 years: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. (A pdf listing state-specific rules maintained by the Guttmacher Institute can be accessed by clicking here.)

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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