'Plan B' contraception now available over the counter
Adults over 18 can buy the pills, which previously required a prescription
Isle women now have easier access to emergency contraception from local pharmacists, who this month started selling the Plan B "morning after" pills without a prescription.
"It's considered over-the-counter, but you have to go to the counter to request it," said Nancy Partika, executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. "It's behind the counter."
The pills, which are designed for use after unprotected sex, had been available in Hawaii but required a prescription from a doctor or, after a consultation, from a pharmacist. In August, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the pills to be made available without a prescription for women 18 and older.
MORNING-AFTER PILL: READ THE LABEL
Plan B emergency contraception prevents pregnancy but does not induce an abortion.
» The pills contain the same medication as regular birth control pills.
» Pills should be started within five days of unprotected sex.
» The pills come in two doses, the first taken within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse and the second 12 hours after the first dose.
» The Healthy Mothers/Healthy Babies Coalition says there are no long-term or serious side effects from using emergency contraception. The main side effects are nausea and vomiting, but also may include fatigue, headache, dizziness and breast tenderness.
On the Net:
» For more information about the pills and a list of participating pharmacists: www.echawaii.org
Partika said "there should be minimal restrictions" now, so long as the person buying the pills produces a government- issued ID. It doesn't have to be a U.S. identification, but could be a passport or other official documentation, she said.
FDA guidelines still prohibit nonprescription access to Plan B pills for teenagers, but girls ages 14 through 17 can get them through a state access program, Partika said. As in the past, they must fill out forms, answer a series of questions and undergo consultation with the pharmacist who generates a prescription, she said.
Girls younger than 14 also can get the emergency contraception pills through the state program with parental consent or from a health care provider.
Plan B emergency contraception, or "morning after" pills, should not be confused with the so-called abortion pill, RU-486.
Emergency contraception pills don't interfere with an established pregnancy. They are stronger doses of birth control pills that should be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex or a failed contraception method to prevent pregnancy, advocates say.
The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition was a major force behind passage of Hawaii's emergency contraception access law in 2003 and establishment of the statewide program with pharmacies in 2004.
"HMHB is very pleased to see that the teens, women and men of Hawaii now have much easier access to emergency contraception under the new Food and Drug Administration guidelines," Partika said.
"This new and simplified process for accessing EC through pharmacies for people ages 18 and older should help us dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies in Hawaii."
Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., which makes the Plan B pill, is shipping it out under a dual label so it can be used with or without a prescription, Partika said. Local pharmacies started receiving the dual-labeled Plan B pills this month.
Now that a prescription is no longer required, the pills also can be purchased by men 18 and older, Partika said. "It is an additional benefit for the program. We have a fair number of males calling about emergency contraception access, to do it for their girlfriends."
The state program previously limited access to patients, so only women could get the pills, Partika noted.
FDA guidelines now allow men or women to buy Plan B pills and stock them in the medicine cabinet for emergency use, "so they don't have to go looking for them in the middle of the night," she said.
There is a downside to the easier access. Since the new Plan B pills can be sold without a prescription, Partika said she believes the buyer must pay for them out of pocket, like most other over-the-counter drugs.
"The cost of emergency contraception unfortunately has gone up," Partika added. She's unsure what the cost will be for the new pills now that counseling no longer is required for adults.
She estimated it could run from $25 to $35 for the two pills needed.
"To prevent an unintended pregnancy, it is very cost-effective," she said, but it is not intended for routine birth control.
"In terms of affordability, state access was better," Partika said, suggesting people with financial issues use the state program or go to a doctor for a prescription. With a prescription and a drug plan, part of the cost may be covered by insurance, she said.
Hawaii was the third state, after Washington and California, to enact a law providing emergency contraception access through pharmacies.
About 200 to 250 pharmacies underwent special training for the state program and signed collaborative agreements with doctors to be able to dispense the pills to women and girls age 14 and up.
If there are any questions, Hawaii's trained pharmacists are able to answer them, Partika said. "The federal program doesn't require pharmacists to be knowledgeable about it. Everything you need is supposed to be on the label. It's scary, because a lot of people don't read it."
Any pharmacies listed on the emergency contraception Web site, echawaii.org, should be carrying the dual-label Plan B, being shipped to pharmacies this month, Partika said. She suggested people call their pharmacy to check whether it has the pills in stock.