‘Morning-after-pill’ cleared for wider sales

By Katherine Brachelli
September 15, 2006

Shane Evans

The Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a contraceptive drug that will be available to women 18 and older, as long as buyers show proof of age.

Plan B is often referred to as emergency contraception or the “morning after pill.”

Plan B is used to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex. It is in the form of two levonorgestrel pills that are taken by mouth.

The over-the-counter sale of Plan B has been greatly debated, according to the New York Times. Plan B will only be sold in pharmacies and health clinics. Some campus health centers, such as the University of Texas, plan to make the emergency contraceptive available.

Susan Fitzgerald, coordinator of health services, said, “Because of the mechanisms of action of the ‘morning-after-pill,’Cabrini College health services would never dispense or prescribe this medication.”

Nationwide over-the-counter sales will begin by the end of the year, according to Barr Pharmaceutical, manufacturer of Plan B.

Karen Pearl, president of Planned Parenthood, said, “This is absolutely the best way of assuring that when something does go wrong, that people have that second opportunity to prevent the unintended pregnancy.”

Anyone under the age of 18 will still need a prescription to buy the pills.

The FDA’s acting commissioner, Andrew Eschenbach, wrote that he decided that 18 was the appropriate cutoff for sales because pharmacies already restrict nicotine and cold medicines sales at that age, according to the New York Times.

Contraceptive advocates and doctors’ groups say easier access could halve the nation’s 3 million annual unintended pregnancies. The FDA’s own scientists call the pills extremely safe, used by more than 2.4 million Americans and millions more women abroad with few side effects. The FDA’s independent scientific advisers overwhelmingly backed over-the-counter sales in December 2003, reported the FDA.

Anti-abortion groups strongly opposed Barr’s application for over-the-counter sales, saying the medicine is an abortion pill whose widespread availability could lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Abortion rights advocates pushed equally hard to get the application approved, contending that easy access to Plan B would sharply reduce the nearly one million abortions performed each year in the United States, according to the New York Times.

Loquitur welcomes your comments and questions on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@googlegroups.com.

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Katherine Brachelli

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