Are Pharmacists Lying To Teenagers About The Morning-After Pill?

A new study conducted by the Boston Medical Center/Boston University School of Medicine and published in the journal Pediatrics has uncovered a truly disturbing trend: teens are being given false information about the legality and availability of the morning-after pill (also known as Plan B), quite possibly on purpose, by their pharmacists. What the what?!

First, the facts about the Plan B’s legality/availability: teenagers 17 and older are allowed to purchase the morning-after pill without a prescription; teens under 17 are able to acquire it but need a doctor’s prescription. However, the study found that when researchers posing as teens under the age of 17 called their pharmacy to inquire about getting Plan B, many were told that they were not legally allowed access to it or were given misinformation about how they could get it — but when researchers posing as doctors called back asking for the same information, the pharmacists suddenly had their facts straight.

According to the MSNBC, the study’s participants — both those posing as teens and those posing as doctors — were given a script that they had to stick to. 

The first question was whether the pharmacy had the medication in stock — 80 percent of the 943 pharmacies said they did. Next, the researcher posing as a teen asked if she could get the drug, while the researcher posing as the doctor of a 17-year-old patient asked if the patient could get the medication.

There was a huge disparity between the answers given to the teens and those offered to the physicians, with 19 percent of the 17-year-olds being told that they couldn’t get it under any circumstances, compared with only 3 percent of the physicians.

The next question was asked only by teen callers who had been told a 17-year-old could get the morning-after pill: “My friends said there is an age rule [regarding access without a prescription] — do you know what it is?”

Pharmacy employees answered that incorrectly 43 percent of the time.

It’s worth noting that researchers posing as teens were more often helped by lower level staff, who might be ill-informed about the legal parameters of dispensing Plan B, while researchers posing as doctors were more often handled by the actual pharmacists. But while these factors may have contributed to the study’s results, it’s also reasonable to assume that some pharmacists and pharmacy staff may have been purposefully giving bad information — i.e. lying — because of a “moral” objection to dispensing the morning-after pill.

But even in a best case scenario — where few meant to give out false information on purpose — it should be cause for alarm that A) these “teens” in crisis were not taken particularly seriously, often put on hold for long periods of time, and dealt with by lower level staff, and B) that lower-level pharmacy staff members are so woefully ignorant about the legality of dispensing Plan B.