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Plan B ‘morning after’ pill hitting the shelves in Charlotte

By Lisa M. Krieger
San Jose Mercury News

The “morning after” pill is arriving on the shelves of most pharmacies and grocery stores, available to anyone of any age without restrictions, in a step that profoundly eases access to emergency contraception.

This simple relocation of the once-controversial “Plan B One Step” – next to condoms, tampons and sanitary napkins, instead of behind pharmacy counters – represents the final step in a complex decadelong legal battle to make it more easily available to women who want to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.

A spot check of Charlotte-area pharmacies confirmed that the “morning after” pill is available on the shelf or will be soon. A placeholder marks the spot where Plan B One Step will sit on the shelf next week at the Rite Aid on Tryon Street uptown. Until a shipment of the product arrives with new packaging, customers will need to see a pharmacist.

The government sought to keep it age-restricted, but dropped that fight in June after losing a series of court battles.

At Walmart, “it is currently in the process of being shipped to stores, and will begin arriving in stores, to the family planning section,” said Walmart spokeswoman Danit Marquardt.

Nationwide chains such as Walgreens and CVS they were moving the product to the health, feminine hygiene or family planning aisles of their stores.

Some independent pharmacies are rearranging shelves, as well.

The retail price is expected to range from $50 to $70.

Women in many states have not needed a prescription to buy the product, but they had to ask for it at a pharmacy counter.

That’s a step that could intimidate young women. And if a pharmacy was closed, it delayed access to a time-sensitive medication. A federal judge ruled that restrictions were “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Plan B, trademarked as Plan B One-Step, is similar to birth control pills, but at a higher dose. It is designed to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unplanned sex, but is more effective the sooner you take it.

The decision to make the product available came after a string of legal defeats. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused to delay part of a lower-court judge’s order to make the pill available over the counter to people of all ages.

The drug is made by Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which has been granted three years of exclusive marketing rights by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The price is unlikely to drop until 2016, but the cost is less than an abortion or unintended birth, said supporters.

Jessica M. Morrison contributed.

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