Friday, July 13, 2007

Plan B Use Surges, And So Does Controversy By Rob Stein

The popularity of the morning-after pill Plan B has surged in the year since the federal government approved the sale of the controversial emergency contraceptive without a prescription.

Plan B sales have doubled since the Food and Drug Administration authorized the switch for women 18 and older last August, rising from about $40 million a year to what will probably be close to $80 million for 2007, according to Barr Pharmaceuticals, which makes Plan B. ...

"What we're seeing is women who needed this product now finally having access to it. For a woman in that position, it can make a real difference in her life."

But conservative groups that fought the change say they are disturbed by the surging use. ...

Plan B consists of higher doses of the hormones found in standard birth control pills. Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B has been shown to be highly effective at preventing pregnancies. ...

Conservative members of Congress and advocacy groups strongly opposed the move. They questioned the drug's safety and argued that easier availability could encourage sexual activity and make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls. They also maintain the pill can cause the equivalent of an abortion.

The FDA delayed the move for three years despite endorsements by the agency's outside advisers and internal reviewers, leading to intense criticism that the agency was allowing politics to influence the decision. ...

Surveys and anecdotal reports indicate that some pharmacies refuse to stock the drug, some pharmacists refuse to provide it to women and some pharmacy workers mistakenly believe only the pharmacist can dispense the drug.

"Even though it's now available without a prescription, there are still significant obstacles that customers are facing around the country ... The over-the-counter access is not a cure-all."

Tashina Byrd, 24, said she was turned away by a pharmacist in Springfield, Ohio, in January after her fiance's condom broke and she tried to buy Plan B.

"He just laughed and told the attendant to tell me no one would give it to me," Byrd said. "I was enraged and humiliated."

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