OCTOBER 01, 2006

The nation's pharmacists will be in the hot seat when Plan B emergency contraceptives become available without a prescription for women 18 and over. After years of wrestling with the political and scientific issues surrounding the controversial drug, the FDA has agreed to allow Barr Laboratories' Duramed subsidiary to begin marketing Plan B over the counter on a restricted basis. Women under 18, however, will continue to require a prescription for the "morning-after" pill, and pharmacists will be responsible for verifying the ages of all patients seeking the OTC version of the drug.

Under the approach approved by the FDA, Plan B will be available only through licensed pharmacies, and pharmacists will be expected to keep the drug behind the counter. Barr also agreed to monitor pharmacists to ensure that they are enforcing the age restriction.

Despite the added liability, pharmacy leaders welcomed the new responsibilities for pharmacists. "Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help manage access to emergency contraception under this unique approach," officials at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) said.

APhA added, however, that pharmacists who have ethical or religious objections to the use of emergency contraception should not be required to dispense Plan B. "During the implementation phase of Plan B's change to OTC status, it will be important for employers?to develop systems that support a pharmacist's ability to opt out of working with emergency contraception, while providing a timely alternative for consumers," the association said.

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