Texas pharmacies restrict access to morning-after pill

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– Despite federal legislation making emergency contraception available without age limits or a prescription, Texas adolescents may be denied or hindered in their attempts to obtain it, according to a study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies.

When researchers queried 768 Texas pharmacy employees (97% of whom were pharmacists or pharmacy techs) about the availability of levonorgestrel at their stores, the drug was available in only 76% of pharmacies. However, contrary to federal law, 6% of stores required a prescription to obtain it.

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“In the more conservative areas, there is still a stigma, and they go by their own policies instead of following the laws,” Cameron Goff, an undergraduate at the University of Texas, Austin, explained in an interview. He noted that, anecdotally, the larger nationwide pharmacy chains seemed more likely to stock the drug than the smaller stores, but at least one nationwide chain in their survey had a policy of not stocking the drug.

Almost half (47%) of the pharmacies who stocked the drug reported an age requirement for purchase; this rose to 81% in the panhandle of the state, which is considered a more socially conservative region. The researchers divided the pharmacies into six geographic regions and 25% of pharmacies in each region were randomly selected for inclusion.

“Typically, the age limit these pharmacies picked was 17, which is what the most recent federal law said too, but in 2013, that was changed such that there is not supposed to be an age limit,” said Mr. Goff. “But it really varied – some told us 18, some said 21, and some said, ‘I don’t know the age limit, but I would give it out without checking their ID.’ ”

As well, 52% required some degree of interaction or consultation with pharmacy staff to obtain the drug – either it was behind the counter or on the shelf, but maybe in a locked cabinet.

Turns out, pharmacy staff also aren’t well versed in the use of levonorgestrel. Only 10% of those surveyed recognized that there may be a weight limitation with use of levonorgestrel and only 2% knew that the medication could be used up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse.

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