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Morning-after pills may expire at year’s end

October 19, 2006

The stork does not bring people babies — unprotected sex does.

As director of Student Health Services (SHS), Alice Reilly-Myklebust knows that while the stork is a myth, unprotected sex happens.

To help UW-River Falls students take precautions against unplanned pregnancies, SHS is providing a backup plan in the form of two pills.

Levonorgestrel 0.75 milligram tablets, otherwise known as Plan B, is available for UW-RF students at the River Falls Area Hospital and Pierce County Reproductive Health Services free of charge, as a student health fee pays for the emergency contraception medication.

Although SHS knows students are using the free emergency contraceptive, this could be the last year it is offered.

On Aug. 24, the FDA approved Plan B for over-the-counter (OTC) access to women 18 years of age and older. Females 17 and younger must still get a prescription for the emergency contraceptive.

Once released to pharmacies, the drug will be held behind the counter to monitor both prescription and OTC access. Women 18 and older must provide identification and then the drug can be purchased. As of this time, the cost of Plan B is unknown.

Although Plan B manufacturers will soon release the drug for OTC access, the exact date is unknown and SHS is continuing to offer the emergency contraceptive for the rest of the 2006-2007 school year.

“We are going to offer it through the rest of the academic year,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “We want to make sure it is accessible.”

After this year, SHS will reassess offering Plan B free of charge.

Based on the cost and availability of the OTC Plan B, SHS will continue to provide the service if the cost is too great for students to bear.

While the drug’s manufacturer, Duramed, gives a 72-hour window to take Plan B after unprotected sex or a failed contraceptive, Reilly-Myklebust has one message for UW-RF students – the faster Plan B is used, the better.

“It is more effective the earlier it is used,” she said.

The SHS director is so serious about early access to Plan B that in a recent conversation with River Falls Area Hospital doctors, Reilly-Myklebust reminded physicians that providing the emergency contraceptive as a preventative measure is fine with the UW-RF organization.

Giving UW-RF students Plan B “in advance is OK with Student Health Services,” she said. “If a condom breaks, they can take it right away.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration Web site, taking Plan B as soon as possible after unprotected sex is the most effective form of treatment.

As a large dose of birth control, Plan B works by stopping the release of an egg from an ovary. In addition, Plan B may also prevent the fertilization of an egg or its implantation to the uterus.

Plan B is distributed as two tablets. Once the first one is taken, the second tablet needs to be taken 12 hours after.

If a woman is already pregnant, Plan B will not work.

The efforts of SHS in making the emergency contraceptive available to UW-RF students have not gone unrewarded.

A National College Health Assessment study of unplanned pregnancies and emergency contraception use with UW-RF students shows that since 2000 the number of unplanned pregnancies has decreased from 1.5 percent to 1.2 percent, and the amount of emergency contraception use has risen from 4.7 percent to 8 percent.

Reilly-Myklebust sees these results as a positive sign.

“We try to offer services that are appropriate services that they utilize,” she said.
Reilly-Myklebust also reiterated that Plan B has been “proven a safe and effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancies.”

While the drug is safe to use, it is not without side effects.

According to the Plan B drug informational packet dispensed with the medication, the most common adverse effects are nausea, abdominal pain and fatigue.

Other side effects include dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.

In his last semester at UW-RF, senior Tony Harstedt thinks SHS is doing a good thing by providing free emergency contraception.

“It is certainly a viable option for couples who choose to use it,” Harstedt said. 

While the 25-year-old said he does not think he would ever encourage a female to use Plan B after unprotected sex, he does think offering the emergency contraceptive is an appropriate service for college students.

Although Harstedt said Plan B is not a contraceptive option he would use, a UW-RF freshman thinks the two tablets make for a good option.

The female student, who wishes to remain anonymous, is currently on birth control but has visited Pierce County Reproductive Health Services.

She has Plan B as “a backup in case you don’t use a condom or during ovulation,” she said, adding her reason for being so precautious is that she is “not at an age where I want to have a baby.”

Her boyfriend is also very supportive of her insistence on safe sex.

“He thought I should get it [Plan B] with birth control,” she said. “It’s half his part too.”
The student said getting Plan B for free helps her financially because she doesn’t “make a lot of money.”

The freshman’s need for free emergency contraception solidifies the work of Reilly-Myklebust and SHS.

“Hopefully we are being able to provide access, information and education for a variety of health issues,” she said.

For more information on free emergency contraception from SHS, visit www.uwrf.edu/studentheatlthservices.