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FDA Plays Tug-of-War with Controversial Drug

By: Toni Harrison
By: Toni Harrison

It might be one of the most controversial drugs on the market; its name is Plan B. Many refer to it as the morning after pill or emergency contraception.

The pill is now the subject of a tug-of-war with the Food and Drug Administration. By year's end, sixty days later than expected, federal health officials have to decide if this drug should be available without a prescription.

"I would be very pleased if this were available over the counter it's safe, it's effective it helps prevent unplanned pregnancy," said Dr. Nancy Bertsch, M.D., board member, Planned Parenthood.

"Emergency contraception is similar to birth control but it is a higher dosage of hormones so its unsafe to have available over the counter because with birth control, you must have a prescription," said Marilisa Carney, Executive Director, Coalition for Life.

In 2003, the FDA's own scientists backed over-the-counter sales of the pill. However the agency rejected the idea saying young teens would obtain the pills without medical supervision.

This time around, if the FDA approves selling the pill over-the-counter, there would be an age limit on purchases. Any customer buying the drug would be required to show identification, similar to the purchase of cigarettes or an alcoholic beverage.

"For young women, they may not be able to make that decision, especially without the parents knowledge or consent," said Carney.

On a scientific level, the FDA's medical advisers labeled the pills extremely safe and the medical community does appear to support over-the-counter sales of Plan B despite the controversy.

"It's backed by medical experts. The American College of OBGYN's strongly supports availability of emergency contraception and over-the-counter availability," said Bertsch.

Currently, seven states have laws that allow over the counter sales of Plan B. But even if over-the-counter sales are approved on a federal level, pharmacies will still have the option to refuse to carry the drug.


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