A survey of pharmacies in 3 large US cities shows that women’s access to OTC Plan B (levonorgestrel) is easier and faster since the FDA approved behind-the-counter status for the emergency contraception in August 2006. The dual-label product is available for OTC purchase for women 18 and older. Girls under 18 need a prescription.
To investigate if the FDA approval had any effect on the drug’s availability, the researchers surveyed pharmacies in Atlanta (Georgia), Boston (Massachusetts), and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) in 2005 and 2007. The 2005 survey included 1087 pharmacies and the 2007 survey included 795.
In 2005, the researchers found 23% of pharmacies reported being unable to dispense Plan B within 24 hours. Plan B works best if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. The percentage was much lower 2 years later at 8%. Furthermore, 2% of the 2007 pharmacies surveyed said they would refuse to dispense the emergency contraception, compared with 4% in 2005.
Atlanta’s state law allows pharmacists to refuse to dispense Plan B on the basis of moral or religious beliefs. The study findings, published last month in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that rate of refusal was 9% in 2005 and dropped to 2% in 2007. The pharmacies that were unable to dispense Plan B within 24 hours went from 35% to 14%.
Pennsylvania currently has no law regarding pharmacist refusal or medication stocking. In Philadelphia, 23% of pharmacies reported being unable to dispense the drug, compared with 10% in 2007. The refusal rates were 3% in 2005 and 4% in 2007.
Massachusetts requires pharmacies to stock all commonly available medications. In Boston, rates of being unable to dispense Plan B or refusal to do so were low at both survey periods.
For other articles in this issue, see: