Emergency contraception may not be available to all young men

Young men often run into difficulties when they attempt to buy the morning-after pill for their partners, a new study suggests.

Researchers report in the journal Contraception that in about one in every five attempts, young men in New York City were not able to buy the drug that can prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex.

“We give a significant amount of lip service for men to be responsible in the couple and there are a number of ways for them to do that,” Dr. David Bell told Reuters Health. “In this case, if the condom breaks, they can do that by getting emergency contraception for their partner.”

People should make sure they aren’t putting up additional barriers that prevent men from taking a responsible role within the relationship, Bell said.

Bell, the study’s lead author, is from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He's also the medical director for the Young Men’s Clinic, part of New York Presbyterian Hospital's Family Planning Clinic.

“In my conversations with a number of young men, they would say ‘I would try to go get emergency contraception from the pharmacy and they asked me to get my partner’s ID or any woman off the street,’” he said. “It was in the back of my mind about how real were these barriers.”

Currently, any person of any age can buy the morning-after pill – often sold as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice one dose – without a prescription at U.S. drugstores.

When the study was conducted in July 2012, U.S. law restricted access to the morning-after pill without a prescription to men and women 17 years old and older.

For the new study, the researchers sent three male mystery shoppers – ages 19, 25 and 28 – to 158 pharmacies in the Washington Heights, East Harlem and Upper East Side neighborhoods of New York City.

Overall, the mystery shoppers were able to purchase the medication at 128 of the pharmacies.

Of the 30 pharmacies where the mystery shoppers couldn’t access the drug, 22 required the male to bring either a female or her ID with him. The other eight pharmacies said they didn’t have the medication in stock.

Most of the people working at the pharmacies did give the mystery shoppers accurate information about the medication’s effectiveness. One worker incorrectly told a shopper that the medication would cause an abortion. Another worker incorrectly told a shopper it would cause birth defects.

The findings don't necessarily hold true for other parts of the country, Bell said.

“Although New York City is particularly liberal and would have better access, given this is the situation in New York City, I would speculate that there is probably more of an issue in other parts of the country that we haven’t studied,” he said.

In New York City, Bell added, it’s fairly easy for men who are turned away at one pharmacy to go to another.

“I obviously can’t speak to smaller towns where there may be only one pharmacy,” he said.

Bell said a possible next step for the research is to do the experiment again to see if things have changed since there are now no age restrictions on over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill.