Some teens denied legal access to Plan B, Boston Medical Center study finds

Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, said she sees teens all the time who ask her to fill their prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B. “Teens come to my clinic for Plan B because they couldn’t get access in a more straightforward way either over-the-counter or with a doctor’s prescription,” she told me.

Sometimes, they can’t get a pharmacist to fill it for them or they’re simply too embarrassed to ask.

Plan B is approved for girls of all ages with a prescription and is available without a prescription for those age 17 and over, but it’s kept behind the counter and girls have to show proof of age to get it. Government health officials earlier this month nixed the idea of giving girls of any age unrestricted over-the-counter access to the pill.

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In a study published online as a research letter in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, Wilkinson and her colleagues called 943 pharmacies in five big cities across the country and found that 80 percent of the stores kept the drug in stock—which is a higher percentage than in older studies—but that callers posing as teens were often given misinformation. Some 19 percent of the time, callers who said they were 17 and wanted to get Plan B were told briskly by pharmacy employees that they couldn’t have it.

“The employee usually hung up the phone quickly before the caller could ask more questions,” said Wilkinson. When callers were able to ask about the legal age for over-the-counter access, they were usually given an age that was too high. The misinformation, she added, occurred more frequently in low income areas. The cities were Nashville, Philadelphia, Austin, Portland, and Cleveland.

Boston pharmacies weren’t included. Wilkinson said, since Massachusetts has a law that allows pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to those who require a prescription; thus, she and her colleagues reasoned, pharmacists in the state might be more likely than those in other states to be informed about the rules for dispensing plan B to minors.