FDA still stalled on Plan B

Some Democrats are letting the slow-moving agency know that ideology must not supersede science.

Published February 21, 2006 10:28PM (EST)

Feministing draws our attention to the pressure that some Democrats are putting on the Food and Drug Administration for not making the morning-after pill available without a prescription. The pill, also known as Plan B, is a higher dose of a regular contraceptive that lowers the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. House Democrats have accused the FDA of allowing politics to get in the way of a decision, something Andrew von Eschenbach, the agency's acting director, adamantly denies.

The "nonpolitical" debate has already caused one FDA director, Susan Wood, to resign from her post and has resulted in one of the most ideologically charged drug campaigns in FDA history. Supporters of over-the-counter sales insist that easy access to the drug will decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, while conservatives voice concerns about teenage promiscuity (as they did with the advent of the pill 40 years ago).

The FDA already rejected over-the-counter sales in May 2004, explaining that there was no evidence that teens younger than 16 could safely use the drug without a doctor's guidance. Barr Laboratories, the maker of the drug, resubmitted its proposal, this time outlining age limits: "Females 16 or older could buy it without a prescription, but younger teens would continue to need a doctor's note," the Associated Press reported. While this age-regulated plan sounds like it could be complicated and perhaps a deterrent -- will cashiers ask to see a customer's I.D.? -- it does respond to FDA concerns.

Von Eschenbach says that the FDA is reviewing the issues now. The FDA has been reviewing the "issues" for more than three years. Let's hope Democrats stay on track and continue pushing for a drug that should have been made more widely available long ago.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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