Study: Pharmacies Giving Teens Misinformation on Plan B

A 17-year-old girl in need of the Plan B emergency contraceptive may not always get accurate information – or even access to the drug – from her pharmacy, according to a new study recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics.


Researchers from Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine orchestrated calls to 943 pharmacies in five major American cities this year to see how the drugstores were handling inquiries about the contraceptive sold under the brand name Plan B One Step. The drug is available over the counter to ages 17 and older and by prescription to younger teens.


Female researchers posed as 17-year-old girls in some calls, and as physicians inquiring for their 17-year-old patients in other calls. About 80 percent of the pharmacies contacted in the study reported having the drug in stock. But when callers posing as 17-year-olds asked if they could obtain the medicine, 19 percent were told that they could not get it under any circumstances. Callers posing as physicians, however, received accurate information much more often; only 3 percent were told that their 17-year-old patients could not get the drug.


The study didn’t look into reasons behind the misinformation, but the authors note that the “physician” callers spoke to actual pharmacists much more often than the “teen” callers (12 percent vs. 3 percent of the time). The authors theorize that lower-level pharmacy employees taking calls from teens might not be well informed about the rules of dispensing Plan B or even that they might not want teens to have access.


“Given the history of emergency contraception, the politics around it and also the frequent changes to the dispensing regulations, there are lots of sources of misinformation,” says study lead author Tracey Wilkinson, M.D., a general pediatrics fellow at Boston University.


– Christina Elston 

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