ANNAPOLIS – Maryland pharmacists may be allowed to provide emergency contraceptives to patients without a prescription under an initiative introduced Thursday and co-sponsored by 31 legislators.
Last session, a similar bill passed in the House of Delegates, but failed in the Senate. Sponsors said recent federal moves might turn the tide this year.
The Federal Drug Administration is considering over-the-counter sales of Plan B, one type of emergency contraceptive, which could make the House’s legislation unnecessary.
But sponsor Delegate Marilyn R. Goldwater, D-Montgomery, wants the legislation on the agenda in case the FDA doesn’t come through with a decision.
The companion pieces, House Bills 203 and 204, would allow a pharmacist, under arrangement with a physician, to dispense the emergency contraceptive pill to patients under a new program to be established in the state health department.
Emergency contraception pills are high-dose oral contraceptives, which can be taken within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Often called the “morning-after pill,” they are most effective when taken within 72 hours, which is why proponents want to make sure the drug is easily accessible.
“I think there are lots of women who need to have access within 48 hours. On Saturday and Sunday, they are not able to get to the doctor, and even on a weekday, they might not be able to get an appointment,” Goldwater said.
Women would be required to follow up with a doctor, a move Goldwater said would allow them to get family planning advice and also should deter repeat users.
But there is no tracking method for follow-up doctor visits, said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, who opposes the legislation and emergency contraception.
“I think that if a woman is concerned she’s pregnant, she should go to a physician and not take this on herself,” said Amedori. In addition, she said she’s worried such easy access could lead to abuse of the drug or health problems such as hemorrhaging.
Last year, the Maryland Pharmacists Association took no stance on the issue. This year, they support it, because they said it is a better alternative than the over-the-counter option.
Emergency contraception is already dispensed without a prescription by pharmacists in several states, including a 20-year program in Washington state, said Howard Schiff, Executive Director of the Maryland Pharmacy Association.
“It is not for every pharmacist,” said Schiff, who said some may have moral qualms about dispensing the contraceptive. – 30 – CNS-1-22-04