Pharmacists Who Suck at Their Job Tell Teens They Can't Have Morning-After PillS

Teenagers across the country are being wrongly denied Plan B by pharmacists who are apparently terrible at their job, according to a new study.

Pharmacists are either blatantly lying or they don't know that it's perfectly legal for girls 17 or older to buy the drug over the counter. Either way, they should be ashamed. For the study, researchers posing as 17-year-olds called 943 commercial pharmacies in five states. In cases when the pharmacists admitted Plan B was available, they told the callers they couldn't buy the contraception under any circumstances and quickly hung up on them. Teens may have had better luck had they shown up at the pharmacies in person, but a denial over the phone would certainly dissuade them from doing so.

I wrote about the FDA's wrong-headed decision to not allow girls younger than 17 to buy the drug without a prescription in December. The new study is even worse news, especially because the misinformation is doled out more often in low-income neighborhoods where pregnancy rates are higher, and where girls need help staying in school and avoiding teenage pregnancy. Nearly 24 percent of the low-income neighborhood pharmacies lied to or misinformed girls about their legal access to Plan B, compared to 14.6 percent in other neighborhoods.

Also, 44 percent of the pharmacies told teenagers the wrong age at which they could buy the drug over the counter: most of them said you needed to be older than 17 to obtain it (in reality you must be 17 to buy it without a prescription, but younger teens can buy it with a prescription). In lower-income neighborhoods, 50 percent of pharmacies got that one wrong compared to 37 percent in other neighborhoods.

Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, talked to me for my previous post, and what he said is even more true vis-a-vis this study: Young girls who find themselves pregnant have often been manipulated by an older boyfriend, uncle, neighbor, etc. into having sex. They're ashamed, scared, and need help.

Misinformation like this just compounds the challenges facing many girls in difficult situations. Like LiveScience says: spread the word. Plan B is available over-the-counter to anyone 17 or older. [LiveScience]

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