The FDA Expands Access To Cheaper Versions Of Plan B

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File

In this file photo, a pharmacist holds an example of a generic emergency contraceptive

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now allow generic versions of Plan B One-Step — one of the most popular types of emergency contraception — to be sold over the counter to women of all ages. The move, announced in a letter from the agency last week, will effectively expand young Americans’ access to this type of contraception, particularly since generic versions of the morning after pill can be as much as $10 cheaper than Plan B.

The FDA’s old policy was essentially a concession to Big Pharma. Teva Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Plan B One-Step, was granted three years of exclusive rights to sell its brand name medication over the counter without an age restriction. Generic versions, meanwhile, remained behind the pharmacy counter and were only available without a prescription to women over the age of 17, requiring an ID in order to purchase them.

Over the past several years, the federal government has been locked in a complicated legal battle over emergency contraception regulations, and the FDA finally decided to end age restrictions on over-the-counter Plan B sales in June. But the arrangement with Teva represented yet another unnecessary barrier to emergency contraception, forcing teens without much disposable income to pay more for the pill if they didn’t have a prescription.

Now, the FDA is putting forth somewhat of a compromise. Off-brand versions of Plan B will come out from behind the counter, and people of both genders will be able to purchase them without showing an ID, as long as the packaging is updated to indicate that the medication is intended for “women 17 years of age or older.”

Reproductive health advocates, who point out that there’s no good reason to restrict generic versions of the morning after pill, celebrated the move.

“This is a significant leap forward in obtaining full over-the-counter status for emergency contraception and we commend the FDA for this decision. Emergency contraception can be used safely and effectively by people of all ages and it should be available without unnecessary and arbitrary barriers,” Jessica Arons, the president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said in a statement.

The downside of the FDA’s new policy is the fact that it adds yet another regulation in a space that’s already confusing for pharmacists and teens. The complex fight over Plan B has left many Americans unsure about where the policy actually stands.

Indeed, recent studies into the area have confirmed that pharmacists frequently misinform teens about whether they’re allowed to buy Plan B, incorrectly telling them there’s still an age restriction. Teens in low-income areas particularly struggle to get their hands on the contraceptive. Some drug stores aren’t actually stocking the morning after pill on their shelves, saying that it’s too risky to move it out from behind the counter because it might get stolen. And some pharmacists refuse to sell emergency contraception altogether, citing their religious opposition to this particular birth control method.