1 in 5 Men Can't Access Emergency Contraception at Pharmacies

January 8, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

A "mystery shopper" survey conducted in New York City showed that 20% of men might not be able to buy emergency contraception (EC) at their local pharmacies.

A “mystery shopper” survey conducted in New York City showed that 20% of men might not be able to buy emergency contraception (EC) at their local pharmacies.

According to the study, which was published in Contraception, almost 75% of the pharmacies involved in the research created barriers for the men to obtain EC, as well.

The study authors sent male researchers aged 19, 25, and 28 years to pose as shoppers at pharmacies and ask to buy the morning-after pill for their significant others. They were told to say the condom broke, if asked.

Researchers chose Washington Heights, East Harlem, and the Upper East Side to examine a range of different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeups. They found that the wealthier areas tended to have better pharmacy hours, yet higher contraception costs.

Of the 158 pharmacies involved in the study, 81% had EC available. At the 30 pharmacies where the men could not buy contraception, the researchers found 73% of pharmacists claimed that the male’s female companion or her ID was required. The remaining 27% of pharmacies reported that they did not have the product in stock.

“There are a few potential explanations for requiring the presence of a female or her identification,” noted David Bell, MD, MPH, associate professor of population and family health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, in a press release. “One possible explanation: The pharmacist may have thought that to comply with the age restriction, the female needed to be present. Of note, this research was conducted prior to the lifting of the age restriction. A second potential explanation is that pharmacists conscientiously objected to EC overall or its purchase by males.”

While the majority of pharmacists knew the correct effective timing for EC, which is 72 to 120 hours, a couple of pharmacists incorrectly reported 24, 36, and 48 hours. Another pharmacist reportedly told a mystery shopper that the pill would cause a miscarriage/abortion and that it was associated with birth defects, according to the study.

Dr. Bell raised concerns about lower-income individuals being able to afford the contraception, in addition to limited access to EC on weekends when fewer pharmacies have extended hours.