[pill]Drug stores are the place for one-stop shopping. You run in, grab some shampoo, develop your pictures, scan the magazine to catch up on Jen and Vince and…get your morning after pill?
In August 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency contraception to be available over the counter without a prescription. So now when you go in to stock up on toothpaste, you can also stock up on your emergency contraception.
However, this is a federal government decision at hand, so the situation may not be as easy as it sounds. For instance, even though there are three different types of emergency contraception, the FDA’s decision pertains only to Plan B, a progestin hormone pill produced by Barr Pharmaceuticals that can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. By the end of 2006, both men and women ages 18 and older will be able to purchase Plan B without a prescription but only from specially trained and licensed pharmacists. Plan B is available in one or two doses. The most common side effects are nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, dizziness, vomiting, and breast tenderness, and they usually only last 24 hours. Also common is the temporary disruption of the menstraul cycle.
Pharmacies near college campuses may especially see a demand for Plan B, with so many young people concentrated in one area. Marsha T. Carolan, sex therapist and director of MSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program, believes the college environment is a major factor in students’ sexual activity. “Observational evidence [shows] that it does seem to increase during the collegiate years,” said Carolan, “Perhaps due to the freedom from family and household constraints, the eagerness to make friends and fit in, the exposure to dis-inhibitors like alcohol and parties and the manic atmosphere that collegiate sports can incur.”
And despite the potential increase in sexual activity, students are not always safe. In 2002, the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research reported that 14 percent of MSU students said they had been with at least three sexual partners that school year. Yet, 37 percent of the students who said they had vaginal sex in the month before survey had not used a condom in the entire month. Furthermore, more than 500 MSU students reported having unplanned pregnancies or unintentionally getting someone pregnant while at school. That same year, 53 percent used condoms to prevent pregnancy, and only 7 percent of students had used the morning after pill.
Some believe that number will increase. By the end of the year, any student with enough money can go to a pharmacy and get Plan B. Critics fear that students who frequently engage in unprotected sex will begin to use the pill as their primary method of birth control. But Lori Lamerand, the president-CEO of the Mid-Michigan Planned Parenthood Alliance, said the pill was not created for that purpose. “It should be used if a woman is assaulted or if her birth control didn’t work — it’s for something more serious than ‘I just didn’t feel like using birth control,’” said Lamerand.
And measures are being taken to prevent abuse. Barr Pharmaceuticals said they will monitor prescribing patterns and the over-the-counter version of Plan B will likely not be covered by insurance plans and will cost more. Plan B currently costs an average of $25-$40.
But will the company actually be able to control pill distribution? There is no limit to the number of times a woman can safely use emergency contraception and skeptics state that cost and regulations will not deter women from getting the pill if they want it. Sophomore Rhonda Ross said high cost would definitely not stop her. “If the occasion called for it, I would definitely pay,” said Ross, “I’m too young to have kids. I’m just not ready to have a baby.”
In addition, many independent pregnancy counseling centers offer the pill on a sliding cost scale so that patients with low incomes can still get it. Critiques also state the embarrassment of having to ask a pharmacist for the pill instead of a doctor may discourage some students. Junior Mindy Magolick said she would be afraid to purchase the pill. “It seems like I would feel ashamed of what I had done the night before to go and get the pill,” said Magolick.
But others fear it is this very sentiment that will lead to even easier access to Plan B. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals encourages women to buy the pill in bulk so as to have it immediately available for future use when accidents happen. The association, along with the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, run the Emergency Contraception Web site (http://ed.princeton.edu) where they repeatedly state the importance of having the pill on hand so it can be taken as quickly as possible in an emergency, since the sooner the pill is taken, the more effective it is. However, these extra stores, some claim, could quickly lead to a black market where the pill will be available to people who can either not afford the market cost of the pill or who do not want to buy it in public.
Yet support for over-the-counter emergency contraception comes from a variety of medical organizations, including the American Medical Association which has been pushing for the decision since 2000. Several European countries and nine states in the U.S. (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington) passed legislature allowing the morning after pill to be sold without a prescription well before the FDA decision. This leads many to believe there will be no significantly negative effects nationwide. Carolan, for one, does not believe over-the-counter access to the pill will be a major factor in risky sexual activity on campus.
[clothes] “Sexual behavior and unprotected sex are often due to the lack of decision making, sexual coercion, gender oppression, history of trauma or abuse, and use of substances,” said Carolan, “Sexual activity should be a caring, compassionate, enjoyable activity that is mutually beneficial to both partners. It should be engaged in thoughtfully and with the understanding that sex between two individuals brings with it responsibilities and risks, as well as rewards.”

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