In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of Plan B, a morning-after pill that contains a large dose of levonorgestrel, a hormone in some birth control pills. Its $40 to $60 price tag, however, can prove prohibitive for many women.
But thanks to a shipment of 100 doses of Plan B and a $10,000 gift from an unnamed donor, the UVA Teen Health Center is now supplying Plan B to women under 20 for free. About 70 percent of the Center’s patients are from the city and county. Generally, UVA students are not patients.
Dyan Aretakis, a family nurse practitioner and project director at the Teen Health Center, says that thanks to the anonymous $10,000 grant, the Center is now able to administer Plan B without charging patients. But there are still limitations.
“We can’t give it to you and let you keep it in your drawer for a year,” says Aretakis. And since the pills must be taken on site, men can’t pick up Plan B for women.
“We’re looking into the prescribing issues, because we’re not pharmacists,” says Aretakis. “We know we’re compliant if we have somebody take it here. We would love to open that up to boyfriends and parents.”
Plan B, says Aretakis, can reduce the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within three days of unprotected sex or birth-control failure. It is often confused with RU-486, a pill that causes abortion. According to its makers, Plan B prevents the ovary from releasing an egg and may also prevent an egg from being fertilized or attaching to the uterus. It will not work if the woman is already pregnant, nor will it affect existing pregnancies.
Aretakis acknowledges that making emergency contraception this readily available may be controversial, and that some may not like it. “The majority of people we know will like it,” she says.
“We know that from having done what we do for so long that we’re not introducing kids to sex,” says Aretakis. “We’re just giving them the additional knowledge and treatment that they need to have a safer life. Kids discovered sex long before we made emergency contraception available.”
The Teen Health Center has three clinicians, and Aretakis says that in the past, each wrote fewer than 15 prescriptions a month for Plan B. She says that the Center has no expectations for demand and will continue to order it as needed.
“We want to stamp out pregnancy among young people who aren’t ready to be a parent,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
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