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Emergency birth control here, sort of

Emergency contraception: Ask for it by name.

As of Jan. 1, after-the-fact contraceptives Preven or Plan B may be dispensed over the counter of your local drugstore without a prescription from a doctor.



Just don’t ask the dispensing pharmacist’s name – if you can find one.




“No comment,” “I don’t want to say” and “I don’t want my name in the paper” are what all but one local pharmacist said when asked whether they will dispense emergency contraception to women whose birth control has failed or who have been raped.

Doug Wells, owner of Pleasant Valley Pharmacy in Penn Valley, said he does not plan to dispense the drugs over the counter because both the training and the counseling are too time-consuming.

Pharmacists would be required to counsel customers, and pharmacists just can’t spare the time, he said.

“It would take at least 15 minutes in middle of the work day,” a daunting task, he said, considering that the volume of prescriptions is scheduled to double in the next three years.

The drugs, which contain levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol, must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse in which no contraceptives were used or when contraceptives fail. A second dose must be taken 12 hours after the first one.

The emergency contraception is not the same as the “abortion pill,” RU-486, which works only during the first nine weeks of pregnancy or up to 63 days from the start of the woman’s last menstrual period, according to a Web site on RU-486.

RU-486 brings about abortion in very early pregnancy. Because it stops the gestation of an early pregnancy, RU-486 has been called an abortion pill.

Patty Harris, executive officer of the state Board of Pharmacy, ventured that pharmacists may be shy about saying whether they will dispense the drugs over the counter because of their moral beliefs about contraceptives. “That’s their right,” she said.

Doctors also may refuse to dispense any type of birth control if it is against their beliefs, she noted.

Pharmacists may also ask another pharmacist to dispense birth control if they themselves oppose the prescription.

“It’s an issue that has come up in the past,” Harris said.

A lot of pharmacists may not be aware of the new program; the pharmacy board plans to send out a newsletter to pharmacists providing information on the training and requirements for dispensing the emergency contraceptives under the new law, Harris said.

Longs Drug store in Grass Valley decided not to enroll in the program – each store’s pharmacy can decide for itself – because one pharmacist opposed dispensing the contraceptives without a prescription, an employee who declined to give his name said.

“We’re not doing it,” said an employee at Main Pharmacy on East Main Street in Grass Valley who also declined to be identified

DeMartini’s Spring Hill Pharmacy in Grass Valley also will not be providing the emergency contraception because pharmacists chose not to seek the extra training required to dispense the medicine, an unidentified pharmacist said.

Currently, pharmacists must undergo 18 hours of training to be certified to provide the contraceptives over the counter, Harris said, but shorter training sessions may be offered soon by the California Pharmacists Association.

According to the association’s Web site, it plans to offer a two-hour home-study course, followed by an exam that costs $150. If pharmacists pass that exam, they are eligible to take a four-hour course then must take another $150 exam to receive a certificate that they have met minimum training to participate in the program.

Dr. Bob Marvell, owner of Dr. Marvell’s Pharmacy in Grass Valley, said he’ll need information from the board of pharmacy about getting certified before he can decide.

Albertson’s pharmacy in the Brunswick Basin has not received a corporate directive yet on whether it will dispense the drugs over the counter, a man who declined to be identified said.

“We’re waiting for clarification on that from corporate,” he said and referred calls to a number in the Bay Area.

Kmart’s pharmacy manager Bob Meier said he plans to become certified to dispense the emergency contraceptives. Pharmacists at the Target store in Auburn also plan to become certified, but don’t know when.

Raley’s pharmacy is also awaiting word from the main office.

“As far as I know ,we haven’t heard from the main office,” pharmacist Joe Bica said. “You need special training. I haven’t seen any memos saying we’re going to be doing this.”

Caroline Conrad, a spokeswoman from Raley’s main office in West Sacramento, said that no Raley’s stores are performing this service at this time.

Laurel Knapp, president of the board of directors of Nevada County Citizens for Choice, said that the nonprofit organization is aware there is limited availability of emergency contraceptives in local pharmacies.

The California Pharmacy Association’s Web site states that all health professionals who provide emergency contraceptive drug therapy will be encouraged to add their names to state and national emergency contraception Web sites.

Those sites include EC-Help.org and Not-2-Late.com and telephone hot lines 800-323-1336 and 888-NOT-2-LATE, making it possible for women to quickly locate the emergency contraception provider closest to them.


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