In a surprising move, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overturned Wednesday's ruling by the Food and Drug Administration that would have made the contraceptive drug Plan B legal for over-the-counter sale without any age restrictions. Plan B and its one-pill counterpart Plan B One-Step are 89 to 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within a 72-hour window after unprotected sex.
The controversial drug, long embroiled in political and moral debate, was declared safe for use by young women 11 and older after a 10-month review of scientific data by the FDA. Prior to the FDA recommendation, the drug, commonly referred to as the "morning-after pill," could be sold by pharmacists to women 17 and older upon request and with identification, while women 16 and younger could only obtain the drug with a prescription.
Political and moral feelings aside, the contraceptive industry is a huge, lucrative business. Teva Pharma, the manufacturer of Plan-B and Plan-B One Step, reported $80 million in sales of the drug in 2010, according to IMS. But will making the drug more widely available create a trickle-down effect for small, private pharmacies?
"In the real world, legislators know nothing about retail. Making this drug more available isn't going to make a difference in sales. And if the law went through, no pharmacy owner in his right mind would place the product in the front of the store. It's small and expensive, and can be easily shoplifted. You'd literally be giving it away."
Pharmacist and Owner, Kings Pharmacy
New York City
"We run a small pharmacy and serve generally the same people. We have stocked Plan B before, but have not sold it because we don't really serve that demographic. I think commercial pharmacies would sell the drug more, because here, we're very familiar with our customers. People purchasing Plan B want anonymity, so it's easier to go to a big retail pharmacy where you're just a number."
Pharmacist and Owner, Crestview Pharmacy
"Our pharmacy isn't a large dispenser of Plan B, but I have worked in one that was. The drug is not a fast-mover, so there is really no gain or loss from stocking it. I agree that it should be more readily available, but it would be irresponsible to put it on shelves because it's expensive. Also, for those willing, it's important to have contact with a pharmacist to counsel on its usage, but for any pharmacy, it's vital that there be a private area for the patient to ask for the drug, so that it can be bought and sold at the counter without anyone knowing what it is."
Pharmacist, Capitol Drugs
West Hollywood, Calif.
"Plan B isn't a very common item sold here -- maybe one pack every three months. I hope that our low sales of the product have more to do with women being safe and taking protective measures rather than them purchasing it from a commercial pharmacy where it's easier to go unnoticed."
Pharmacist and Owner, Melrose Pharmacy
"The potential change in the law would have no real effect on our business economically. Plan B isn't sold often enough -- maybe one pack every month -- to have any real impact on our business whether it's behind the counter or over it."
Pharmacist and Owner, Northwest Hills Pharmacy