The truth is this: young women aged 17 or older are legally permitted to acquire Plan B One-Step or similar “morning-after” medication (Next Choice or other generics) without a prescription. They just have to go to a pharmacist and ask for it. So…why are 19% of 17-year-olds being told by pharmacists that they can’t have it? Easy: either the pharmacists are unaware of the law, or they are lying.
A recent undercover investigation found that pharmacists often try to deter teens from taking the pill, which is basically a concentrated dose of hormones to prevent the ovary from releasing an egg (let me reiterate, because it is important: it is not an abortion pill, it does not cause an abortion), and thus, prevent pregnancy in the event of a potentially unsafe sexual encounter.
The survey, which used both individuals posing as 17-year-olds, or doctors who said they were calling on behalf of 17-year-olds, was conducted by placing calls to various pharmacies in five U.S. cities. Each caller read from a script, which started by asking if the pharmacy had Plan B in stock, which about 80% did. Then, the “teens” asked if they could have it without a prescription. About 1 in 5 pharmacists told them that they could not.
If the “teens” were told that they could not, they were then scripted to tell the pharmacist that they had heard about an age law (which is very clearly spelled out on the Plan B website, as shown above). From MSNBC:
Pharmacy employees answered that incorrectly 43 percent of the time.
Yup. 43% of the time, when the “teen” had the correct information, she was wrongly informed by a person in a position of power, either because the pharmacist didn’t want the teen to have it, or because they themselves were truly misinformed. Either way, it’s hugely problematic.
Multiple studies have pointed out that teenage girls are more than capable of reading instructions and self-administering this single-dose preventative pill. Which means they’re also capable, ostensibly, of going online and finding out the real information about the pill in question. And yet, they are, it seems, frequently getting incorrect information from adults, who they should be able to trust.
From a public health stance, this data is really is scary. Whether the pharmacists are lying, or just don’t know the laws (which they probably should), they’re disseminating false information–and on a pretty big scale; teenagers talk to each other, and when one has an encounter with an authority figure in a white coat who tells her that she’s not allowed to have the pill, she’s going to tell her friends. But most importantly, it hurts young women who are trying to be responsible with their bodies and prevent unintended pregnancy.
Not cool, pharmacists. Not cool.