HealthDay News — Female adolescents requesting emergency contraception at pharmacies are often given incorrect information, partly due to confusion about changing regulations, study findings suggest.

Among 943 pharmacies called, 80% had emergency contraception available the day of the call (N=759), but only 57% provided correct information to callers regarding emergency contraception access (N=431), Tracey A. Wilkinson, MD, MPH of the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and colleagues reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The most recent emergency contraception regulatory change in June 2013 made the name-brand form, Plan B, available over the counter without age restrictions or identification requirements

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To determine whether these changes are accurately conveyed to consumers, the researchers had women posing as 17-year-old adolescents call pharmacies in five U.S. cities — Nashville, Tenn., Philadelphia, Cleveland, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. — using a standard script. 

Overall, qualitative data were provided to 75% of callers, whereas 25% of calls consisted of simple “yes” or “no” answers to the scripted questions.

Among qualitative responses, the researchers observed four trends emerge. Pharmacy policies on emergency contraception availability were often explained in personal or religious ethical terms.

False barriers to emergency contraception access were often introduced, including incorrect age, gender, parental accompaniment and prescription requirements, and used to justify refusing to dispense the medication in some cases. In other cases, pharmacy staff offered solutions to help to overcome such barriers, suggesting confusion may play a role in conversations about emergency contraception availability.

Confidentiality in providing emergency contraception ranged from guaranteeing strict confidentiality to incorrectly telling adolescents that their parents had to be informed.

“Our data suggest that the actual process of obtaining emergency contraception from pharmacy personnel can be challenging for adolescents and complicated by moral judgment, misinformation and inconsistent responses from pharmacy staff,” the researchers concluded. “In addition, the diversity of dispensing rules based on emergency contraception brand could result in confusion on a variety of levels—and may warrant clinicians to continue to write prescriptions to help circumvent the many barriers that we have identified in this study.”


  1. Wilkinson TA et al. J Adolesc Health. 2014;54(1):14-19.