Health Center urges more Plan B education

Health Center urges more Plan B education
Shannon Murphy, SOC graduate student Julia Dahl and Kathy Haldeman discuss Plan B at an information session Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration's recent decision to approve Plan B, or emergency contraception, for sales over the counter should be accompanied by more widespread information on the drug, said Nurse Practitioner Shannon Murphy of the Student Health Center at a Plan B information session held Tuesday in the Wellness Center.

The way Plan B works is often misunderstood, and women should be fully aware of the proper use of the drug before using it, Murphy said. She said many of her patients don't realize that the drug is only 89 percent effective and that it doesn't protect against STDs.

Many patients also confuse Plan B with RU-486, a pill which can be taken up to seven weeks after intercourse to expel an implanted embryo from the uterus and is illegal in the United States, Murphy said. Plan B prevents the release of an egg from the ovary and is usually only effective up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, according to the FDA's Web site.

"There's going to need to be a lot of education on Plan B," Murphy said.

While she feels the decision to sell Plan B without a prescription was positive, Murphy said she also fears women will begin using Plan B as a regular form of contraception.

"It should only be used for emergencies," she said. "You don't want it to be like candy."

Pharmacists also fear that women will abuse the pill once it goes over the counter, said Protus Ukeomah, a pharmacist at the Tenleytown CVS. Ukeomah said he's concerned that women will use Plan B instead of more reliable forms of contraception and fears a rise in STDs.

"Many women come in and are only worried about pregnancy," he said. "They don't think about STDs."

Ukeomah said that the responsibility to educate customers will rest on both pharmacists and Plan B's manufacturer, Barr Pharmaceuticals, once Plan B is available without prescription.

"The patients will be more likely to ask the pharmacist questions because the doctor is out of the picture," he said. "The packaging will also be changed [by Barr Pharmaceuticals] to provide much more information on side effects and proper use of the pill."

Murphy said the side effects of Plan B include nausea, breast tenderness and headaches. She also said a patient should take another dose if she vomits within an hour of taking the pill.

Plan B is available at the Student Health Center and is requested fairly often, Murphy said. Between May 2005 and May 2006, 301 prescriptions for Plan B were filled at the Health Center, according to Health Center records.

"We get the most requests on Monday and Tuesday after weekend activity," Murphy said.

Murphy said she expects the sale of Plan B over the counter will continue controversy over the sale of contraceptives in pharmacies. There have been many cases where pharmacists have refused to fill contraceptive prescriptions due to their personal beliefs on the matter. AU students shouldn't have to worry about lack of availability, she said.

"We always try to get someone in [for an appointment] as soon as possible," she said. "We do take it seriously."

Female students say they will continue using the Health Center for contraceptive needs even though Plan B will be available in local pharmacies.

"I'd feel more comfortable going to the Health Center for something like that," said Meg Mahoney, a senior in the School of International Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences. "They're more geared to work with students than normal pharmacies."

The Student Health Center does place some emphasis on employees' views on contraceptive sales during the interview process, said Wellness Center Health Educator Kathy Haldeman. Health Center employees need to be aware of problems college students commonly face and need to be comfortable with prescribing contraceptives.

"There are several questions we ask that have to do with emergency contraception and Plan B," Haldeman said. "We're always looking for people who really want to work with college students."

Plan B is expected to be available without a prescription to women 18 and over by the end of the year, though the exact date is not known, Murphy said.

More information on Plan B can be found on its Web site, www.go2planB.com.

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