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Uncovering the Plan B Black Market

Posted by Ryan Morgan on September 25, 2013 at 10:23 AM
ShanaTillBy Shana Till The fact we’re having a scavenger hunt for emergency contraception is a WIN. So, let’s begin with a hearty cheers to that! Advocates fought for over a decade to improve access to Plan B, to make it available over the counter. Here is a more thorough timeline. It was a hotly contested, overly politicized legal battle, and as a result, today’s access is complicated – and confusing for most. “OTC drugs are defined as drugs that are safe and effective for use by the general public without seeking treatment by a health professional,” according to the FDA. In simple terms, it means a prescription is not required. But here’s where it gets complicated. Over the counter does not always have a true, literal interpretation. Individual stores can choose to keep the drug behind the counter, despite Plan B’s lack of an age requirement. This is something I learned quickly during the scavenger hunt. Some pharmacies keep it behind the counter due to “shoplifting concerns.” (Most of the pharmacies I visited had Plan B priced around $49.99.) What I’d really like to know – is if stores have actually encountered any incidents of #ECOTC shoplifting. For giggles, I Googled “Plan B black market.” No such results. More often found than its behind-the-counter counterparts (see what I did there), is Plan B in a locked plastic box. Again, shoplifting concerns. I did some digging and found several reports, including this one from U.S. News & World Report that attributes these lock boxes to the pharmaceutical company Teva, and not the individual stores. So, if you’d like to purchase the “lock box” version, you must hand it to the cashier to unlock it before you can leave with it. Not the end of the world, but yet another hoop to jump through. I didn’t think much of this hurdle, until I heard from a young woman, whom I’ll call Maria. She is a young acquaintance of mine, and she reached out to me last week after seeing my snapshots for the scavenger hunt. She told me a very eye-opening story. Maria lives in a rural area, where her closest neighbors are most likely of the bovine variety. (Ok, I don’t know that for sure. But it paints the small town picture I know is accurate.) Recently, Maria needed to purchase Plan B, so she went to her neighborhood drug store. It’s a chain pharmacy, so she was happy to see it sitting pretty on the shelf. One problem - it was in a lock box. Maria tells me she hesitated for a moment, before begrudgingly taking it to the counter to get it opened. She says she was mortified to ask the male cashier for help. I don’t know if you live, or have ever lived, in a small town, but I have. And let me tell you something about small towns. Everyone knows everyone. There is little privacy among the Joneses. So, let’s try to put ourselves in this 20-year-old’s shoes. You dodge neighbor Bob in the soap aisle and avoid cousin Sarah in the makeup section. You finally get what you need, and you take it up to the counter. You patiently wait in line with your lock box, until the male cashier (maybe your brother’s friend from school?) digs under the counter for the key to unlock your oh-so-needed Plan B. You look around and hope no one sees the ordeal. Above all, you don’t want the entire town of Wherever to know you’re buying emergency contraception. Did I mention we’re in the south? Lord willing, your Sunday school teacher doesn’t pop up behind you in line. My hypothetical is dramatic, but it’s entirely plausible. On the one hand, our friend Maria was fortunate to find Plan B over the counter. (She tells me the pharmacy was closed.) However, for a split second, her accessibility seemed thwarted by a little plastic lock. Thankfully, this girl possesses a strong sense of self, and she did what she needed to do, but boy was she embarrassed. Whether it’s in a lock box or not, you still have to hand Plan B to a cashier to ring it up (unless you’re in a fancy CVS with their new self-check-outs). That’s where your maturity, confidence and self-respect must be present. I bet we have all bought far more embarrassing items at the neighborhood drug store. (I thought about giving you my list here, but I decided against it. I will tell you I still blush watching a man ring up tampons.) Confusion abounds with this newly mandated access, but there is still much to celebrate. Women now have unprecedented access to emergency contraception. The scavenger hunt pointed out it advantages and flaws. Work still needs to be done, but we women also have to stand tall and empower ourselves through the marvels of modern medicine. #SCECOTC #FTW Shana is excited to have this blog as an outlet for her personal opinions on reproductive health and hopes it will spark conversations that encourage change and progress.

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