Shipment of dual-label EC now reaching stores

Access to emergency contraception (EC) has been expanded. Shipments of the new dual-label version of Plan B, the levonorgestrel-only EC drug, are now hitting pharmacy market shelves.

Shipments of the drug began in early November 2006. The dual-label product, approved in August 2006 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is available "behind the counter" — but without a prescription — to consumers 18 years of age and older, and it remains prescription-only for women 17 and younger. The new dual-label drug replaces the Plan B prescription-only product that had been marketed in the United States since 1999. Since Plan B remains a prescription product for women 17 and younger, it is being sold only in retail pharmacies under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Nine states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington — have pharmacy access programs, which enable women to get Plan B directly from participating pharmacists without going to a prescriber first. Women younger than age 18 in these states still will be able to access Plan B directly from a pharmacist. Those under age 14 in Hawaii need parental consent to get Plan B through a pharmacist.1

Barr Pharmaceuticals of Woodcliff Lake, NJ, is moving on several fronts to educate providers and consumers about the drug, says Carol Cox, company spokeswoman. To prepare pharmacists, Cox says the company has issued faxes with information about how to dispense the product, an update regarding its new packaging, and a reminder that government-issued identification must be shown for proof of age in order to purchase the drug behind the counter. The company is offering continuing education programs for pharmacists and is working with chain drug stores and pharmacist trade associations to educate their employees/members, Cox reports.

Duramed Pharmaceuticals, the Barr subsidiary which distributes Plan B, is launching its Convenient Access Responsible Education (CARE) Program, a comprehensive education program for health care professionals and consumers to clear up confusion about the dual-status drug. "The company is undertaking a direct to consumer print campaign in women's magazines aimed at women 18 and over regarding the availability of the new product," states Cox. "We also host a web site, www.Go2PlanB.com, where women and health care providers can get information regarding the product."

Check revamped EC site

Those looking for information and direction on emergency contraception should check out the recently revamped EC web site, www.Not-2-Late.com. Established in 1994 by James Trussell, PhD, Contraceptive Technology co-author and professor of economics and public affairs and director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton (NJ) University, the site was one of the first on the Internet to offer women information on the method. It is managed and operated by the Office of Population Research and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP).

The revised site features an improved menu structure, expanded content, and video testimonials from women who have used EC. It also provides information for pharmacists, many of whom will find themselves in a new role of consumer counselors regarding emergency contraception. Funding for the site update was provided by the Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park, CA.

The web site works to increase women's knowledge about and timely access to emergency contraception and other reproductive health choices, both in the United States and abroad. To continue in that focus, it offers EC information, derived from medical literature, in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic, as well as a searchable database of EC providers in the United States and a searchable database of EC pills in every country.

Family planning providers will continue to play an important role when it comes to emergency contraception, says Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York City. Planned Parenthood affiliates are one of the single largest providers of EC, she says.

"We have gotten to that place because of all the work affiliates do within their local communities to increase awareness and access to emergency contraception," states Cullins. "Our web site, [www.plannedparenthood.org], contains information about emergency contraception, and most definitely, the over-the-counter status for women who are 18 and older."

A number of Planned Parenthood affiliates have had "Free EC" days to raise awareness about emergency contraception, and the federation is considering a simultaneous nationwide event, says Cullins. (Grass-roots organizers also are broadening access through the web site, www.emergencykindness.net, where women can receive Plan B within 24 hours and at no cost.)

"We will continue to try to both increase awareness of about emergency contraception, about how to use it, and how important it is to have emergency contraception on hand in the event of a contraceptive mishap or accident," Cullins states. "I think all health care providers should continue to stock emergency contraception, and if they haven't stocked emergency contraception in the past, they should definitely consider it."

Reference

  1. Reproductive Health Technologies Project. Plan B OTC: What Will It Look Like? Washington, DC. October 2006. Accessed at www.rhtp.org.