Boston Researchers: One of Five Pharmacists Misinformed on Plan B

Suffice it to say that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s unprecedented decision earlier this month to bypass FDA recommendations and not allow over-the-counter access to the Plan B morning-after pill has not gone over so well. In the past few weeks, the decision has been widely maligned by women’s health care advocates, and you know, the entire scientific community.

The opposition got another tool in their arsenal this week with the publication of a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a cold call survey, researchers from Boston Medical Center and the BU Center for Public Health found they were repeatedly given misinformation about the availability of the Plan B pill when reaching out to pharmacies across the country.

Between September and December 2010, researchers posing as young women called 943 pharmacies in Nashville, Philadelphia, Austin, Cleveland, and Portland, Oregon and asked a series of questions about the availability of the Plan B pill. In nearly 20 percent of cases, they were told that the pill was not available at all before they revealed their age. The reasons for the availability weren’t made clear — maybe the pharmacist actually didn’t have it or maybe they were morally opposed — but one-fifth of stores being out of the drug isn’t a strong place to start.


But things don’t get much better in the pharmacies that did carry the pill. Twenty percent of the time, the researchers were told that they could not get the pill when they revealed that they were 17 (despite the fact that legally, they can). And when researchers looked at the economic breakdown of the neighborhoods where the pharmacies were based, they found that 60 percent of those providing misinformation were in low-income neighborhoods, where a disproportionate number of teenage pregnancies occur. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a concerned scientist for that matter) to know that that’s a tremendous problem.

HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s argument for not allowing wider distribution of the pill was that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that Plan B drug was safe for young women. Here’s one thing we do know for sure: Misinformation can be dangerous too.