New Mexico last Thursday became the fourth state-joining Alaska, California, and Washington-to allow direct dispensation of emergency contraception (EC) by pharmacists. The move came less than two months after Gov. Bill Richardson signed the Emergency Contraception for Sexual Assault Survivors Act, requiring emergency rooms to provide EC information and access for sexual assault survivors, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The latest activity surrounding EC signifies growing awareness of the safe and effective drug, a concentrated dose of birth control hormones that is up to 95 percent effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, contraception failure, or rape. Last month, Women's Capital Corporation, makers of the emergency contraceptive Plan B, submitted their request to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking over-the-counter status for Plan B. Meanwhile, Gynetics, the maker of the EC Preven, told the New York Times it too expects to attain over-the-counter status by the end of next year. Already, EC is available without a prescription in Albania, Belgium Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Morocco, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, and the UK, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Still, many EC proponents argue that barriers continue to persist, in spite of laws expanding access. In California, only 670 of 5,200 pharmacies signed agreements with physicians to dispense the drug directly. Moreover, many that do charge a $20 to $40 "consulting fee" beyond the $25 to $30 retail drug cost. Joan Hall, a lobbyist for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), criticized the practice as being "highly discriminatory and predatory" considering the absence of such fees for other drugs, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Many pharmacies in California are also now asking women to complete an 11-item questionnaire, which the Pharmacy Access Partnership insists gives pharmacists information for future referrals. Opponents argue the questions are irrelevant and intrusive. Sen. Jackie Speier (D) who is sponsoring legislation to prohibit the consulting fee, cap dispensing fees, and free pharmacists from any obligation to maintain patient-medication records, explained to the LA Times, "It's about discrimination that exists in reproductive health for women." Questionnaires and consulting fees do not accompany dispensations of Viagra.