Plan B usage increases

Elizabeth Graham | Contributing Writer

The use of emergency contraception known as Plan B by Washington University students has risen to approximately 16% to become the third-most popular form of contraception on campus, according to the recent Student Life sex poll.

Rising in reported usage from 8.2% in 2004 and 12% in 2007, Plan B’s increased popularity can be largely attributed to its change in designated status from prescription to over-the-counter medication for women over age seventeen, allowing for ease of access for the general population.

Additionally, the change in Student Health Services’ (SHS) policy in 2012 to allow male students to purchase it from the on-campus pharmacy has increased student local access to the drug, as well as the significantly lower cost of $20 offered by SHS, as opposed to the $35-50 charge at local pharmacies. (Can anyone verify this? I found this info on the SHS website but can’t find the price on Walgreens’ website).

In the self-reported survey, students selected male condoms as their foremost contraception of choice. The second-most popular birth control method was the “hormonal birth control” option, which covered oral contraceptives, patches, Nuvaring, and others.

Given its time-based rate of success and lack of the reliability generally found in certain other birth control methods, sole usage on Plan B could be part of a worrying trend if students wholly rely upon it in the place of regular birth control. The sex poll did not ask if any respondents exclusively used Plan B.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a clinician at the Washington University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, attributed the rise in Plan B use to a general campaign to make the public aware of the benefits of emergency contraception when a woman does not use a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method, such as an IUD or implant.

She stated that emergency contraception has failed to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate because Plan B only affects a single act of intercourse, “and so if women don’t initiate a more effective method of contraception immediately, they’re going to be recurrently at risk.”

Dr. McNicholas stressed the benefits of women becoming more knowledgeable and in control of their own sexual health, but hopes that “as people are becoming more educated about EC (emergency contraception), they’re also starting to think about a transition from needing some EC more to how to prevent or use a longer-term method.”

Its rising importance among students also calls into question whether it is as accessible as students may require. Ryan Duggal, president of the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), stated “It has a large dose of progesterone, so taking it regularly as a regular contraception isn’t very effective,” when describing why SHAC does not distribute Plan B along with the free condoms it supplies in every residential building. He also explained the main potential complication in distributing Plan B for free as the fact that “Plan B is very expensive.”

SHS, which supplies the condoms SHAC distributes, declined to comment. (Is this the appropriate terminology if they didn’t respond to my questions?) However, it emphasized the reproductive services it supplies, such as many different kinds of birth control pills as well as diaphragms, IUD options, skin patches, vaginal rings, cervical caps, and injections, as well as other services.