After three years of debate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraceptive drug, Plan B to women 18 years of age and older. Manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals hopes to make Plan B available in pharmacies by the end of the year.
Student Health Services currently provides Plan B at no cost to students upon appointment. Students may walk in or call in advance and must go through a screening process before receiving the birth control, according to Jeanne Bernosky,
a nurse practitioner at SHS.
Now that Plan B will be made available over-the-counter at pharmacies, it is a possibility that SHS will change the procedure in which students receive the drug. That decision has not been made, Bernosky said.
Since SHS receives its stock of all forms of birth control from the Philadelphia Family Planning Council, they are governed by what PFPC decides to do. Bernosky said SHS is waiting to see what PFPC’s policy will be, which will be discussed in a meeting on Sept. 8.
“We feel we would still initially interview the patient. During appointments we talk about STD risk, condom usage, gynecology and regular forms of birth control. It’s not just the giving out of the medication,” Bernosky said.
Bernosky does not see SHS’s procedure changing, but said students in need receive emergency contraception in a timely manner. She also mentioned the possibility of SHS establishing
a call service for emergencies, managed by registered nurses and partially serving students in need of emergency contraception. The FDA’s controversial decision to approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B presents the issue of whether the increased availability will cause women to behave more promiscuously, using Plan B as a form of birth control rather than a backup when failure or lack of other method ensues.
“People don’t use it as a prior form of birth control,” said Health Service Coordinator Michael McNeil.
Last year the Temple Health Empowerment Office distributed 111,000 condoms throughout the university. McNeil suggested this as partial evidence that a large number of students are making intelligent choices concerning methods of birth control.
McNeil, who works for THEO, said most students only use Plan B in situations when prior birth control methods fail and know that Plan B does not prevent sexually transmitted infections.
“I’m very impressed about how intelligent the questions are that we get from students.
They already recognize it doesn’t prevent STDs,” McNeil said.
Offsetting the theory of women engaging in unprotected intercourse more frequently and hazardously, McNeil said there is a misconception of how many college students engage
in sexual intercourse.
A survey conducted by the National College Health Assessment in spring of 2006 shows that while the perception is that 96 percent of Temple students have engaged in vaginal sex in the last 30 days, only 57 percent actually have. Last school year, 9.6 percent of students used emergency contraception as a method of birth control, and 3 percent unintentionally became pregnant or got their partner pregnant.
“This is one of the reasons why I don’t think we will see substantiated changes in the way emergency contraception is used,” McNeil said. “We have such small numbers of unintended
pregnancy to begin with.”
McNeil also addressed the issue of cost. Purchasing Plan B at a pharmacy will cost anywhere from $25 to $40 per usage.
Also known as the “morning after pill,” Plan B can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Taken between 12 and 24 hours after the act, Plan B prevents 98 percent of pregnancies, according to Student Health Services. As time after intercourse passes, Plan B becomes less effective, though some evidence shows Plan B can be effective up to five days after intercourse. Plan B is taken in the form of two pills – one dose, followed by another 12 hours later.
Plan B contains the hormone levonorgestrel, which is commonly found in other birth control pills. However, the dosage in Plan B is larger than in a single birth control pill. Unlike many birth control pills, Plan B does not contain estrogen, according to Duramed Pharmaceuticals.
Plan B can prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary or may prevent the fertilization of an egg. It can also work by preventing an egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.
Plan B has no effect on fertilized eggs already attached to the uterus and should not be confused with the abortion pill RU-486, which can terminate a pregnancy up to eight weeks after the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. Mild side effects of Plan B include nausea, bloating, bleeding or spotting and headaches or dizziness.
As of the FDA’s decision, women 17 and younger must have a doctor’s prescription to obtain Plan B through a pharmacy. Though the approval is seen as a progressive step, supporters
of Plan B resent the age restriction.
“While we are glad to know the FDA finally ended its foot-dragging on this issue, Planned Parenthood is troubled by the scientifically baseless restriction imposed on teenagers,”
said Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania in a press release. “The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the western world – anything that makes it harder for teenagers to avoid unintended pregnancy is bad medicine and bad public policy.”
Research shows that over-the-counter access to emergency contraception does not increase or encourage sexual activity among teens, according to Steinberg.
“I personally would not want to have the age restriction there,” Bernosky said. “But I’m shocked that our administration even got to this point.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org