Emergency contraception is available without a prescription to those aged at least 17 years, but some pharmacy staff commonly offer the wrong information over the phone to adolescents who call about the drug, according to recent study results.
Two female callers, posing as either 17-year-olds or physicians calling on behalf of 17-year-old patients, telephoned 943 commercial pharmacies in five US cities, asking for information about emergency contraception (EC). Researchers used McNemar tests to study the different results between the adolescent and physician callers.
Eighty percent of pharmacies indicated to the “adolescent” callers that EC was available that day, and 81% of pharmacies reported the same to “physician” callers. However, according to the study, 19% of pharmacies “incorrectly told the adolescent callers that it would be impossible to obtain EC under any circumstances,” compared with 3% for physicians. Almost half of all pharmacies gave the wrong information regarding the age requirement for accessing EC without a prescription.
There are approximately 750,000 teenage pregnancies each year in the United States, and 85% are unintended, according to the study. If EC was used after every contraception failure, the drug could reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies by 50% and 70% of abortions.” The accuracy of the information adolescents and physicians get from pharmacists is critical, the researchers said, because with every 12-hour delay, the odds of pregnancy occurring increase by almost 50%.
“The way the current dispensing regulations are set does not guarantee adolescents access to emergency contraception, largely due to the misinformation that still exists regarding this medication,” said Tracey A. Wilkinson, MD, one of the study’s researchers. “This is frustrating because EC is a safe and effective form of contraception that should be available to all women — no matter their age. But for adolescents where the result of not having access to emergency contraception could result in teen pregnancy, it is especially important.”
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures. The study was funded in part by The Joel and Barbara Alpert Endowment for the Children of the City and Boston University School of Medicine.