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Plan B now available over-the-counter at Health Services

Spring break in 2006 became stressful rather than relaxing for one undergrad when she could not easily obtain emergency contraception after she had unprotected sex.

Since University Health Services had closed for the break and a prescription was then required for EC, the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, took a taxi to the Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island. She left campus around 5 p.m. and waited in the emergency room for two hours before she was able to see a doctor.

"I was pretty panicky," she said, since she knew that EC's effectiveness decreased as she waited. "The whole ordeal took about three hours."

Obtaining emergency contraception, or EC, has recently become much easier for women on campus. Within five months of this incident, the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter status for EC for persons 18 years of age and older. Five places either on College Hill or within walking distance of Brown's campus carry EC: Health Services, Planned Parenthood Express, East Side Prescription Center, CVS and Brooks Pharmacy.

Since the implementation of the new policy, a buyer can expect to purchase EC within approximately two minutes of arriving at the counter, according to employees at all locations. The pills are still kept behind the counter since proof of age is necessary for purchase.

Planned Parenthood Express and Health Services each charge approximately $30 for EC, whereas the pharmacies charge up to $45. Health Services offers EC 24 hours a day, since it has a nurse on staff around the clock.

Minors still need a prescription to purchase EC. Planned Parenthood Express and Health Services offer consultations with a nurse for a minor to obtain this prescription, according to employees at both sites. At Planned Parenthood Express, this consultation consists of taking the girl's blood pressure and describing the purpose and effects of EC. The nurse also asks when or if she had unprotected sex to determine the time frame over which she should take the pills, according to Christine Torres, the receptionist at Planned Parenthood Express.

Meanwhile, men have a more difficult time obtaining EC. Planned Parenthood Express does not allow men to purchase EC, although FDA guidelines do not prohibit the purchase of EC by men.

"We can't dispense the medication to someone who won't actually take the medication themselves," said Cathy Delfino, a nurse-midwife at Planned Parenthood Express. She said a man has never attempted to buy EC at the Angell Street location.

Since the FDA does not prohibit men from buying EC, other pharmacies and Health Services will sell the product to a man as long as he is over 17 years of age.

EC is 89 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, according to a handout from the makers of Plan B, the FDA-approved brand of EC.

EC is "basically a high dose of birth control pills," said Jennifer Cherry, a health educator at Health Services. The medication works primarily by preventing ovulation. It can also keep sperm from uniting with an egg or stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

EC is not intended to be used as a substitute for birth control, according to a Plan B handout. Using EC as birth control would be economically insensible, according to Jenny Wyron '09, a Women Peer Counselor, since a month's supply of birth control can be obtained at a significantly lower price than a single dosage of EC.

Still, Wyron said the easy availability of EC is a positive step for women's ability to take charge of their health.

"It is another tool for women, for their partners, for young people to empower themselves," she said.

Wyron said the WPC program offered its counselors special training in January on the new policies for obtaining EC.


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