Harder to get than you think: Levonorgestrel emergency contraception access in West Virginia community pharmacies

Amie M. Ashcraft, Sara Farjo, Charles D. Ponte, Sarah Dotson, Usha Sambamoorthi, Pamela J. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Emergency contraception (EC) is the only noninvasive form of contraception available after risk exposure and is an important tool for preventing unintended pregnancy resulting from unprotected sex, sexual assault, or contraceptive failure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed age restrictions on levonorgestrel EC and made it available over-the-counter to everyone in 2013. Despite improved availability and accessibility since the change in FDA regulations, community pharmacies have not uniformly embraced the policy. West Virginia is a rural state with high rates of poverty and teen pregnancy. Design: The investigators called community pharmacies in West Virginia to assess the availability and accessibility of levonorgestrel EC in addition to the pharmacy staff's knowledge of effectiveness for this cross-sectional study. Setting and participants: The study sample consisted of 509 community pharmacies throughout the state. Outcome measures: A structured script was employed to conduct phone calls to community pharmacies with items assessing availability, accessibility, and knowledge of effectiveness. Results: At the time of the phone calls, levonorgestrel EC was reported to be available in 48.9% of the community pharmacies in West Virginia. Chain pharmacies were more likely to report EC as being in stock (0.76) than independent pharmacies (0.15.). Other measures of accessibility also favored chain pharmacies versus independent pharmacies. The overall accessibility of EC at West Virginia community pharmacies was derived from a binary composite variable of “completely accessible” or “not completely accessible” by combining 5 predetermined items. Overall, EC was completely accessible to callers in 0.27 of all pharmacies with significant differences by pharmacy type (0.47 of chain pharmacies as compared with 0.03 of independent pharmacies). Conclusion: Accessible EC could reduce unintended pregnancy and help break the state's generational cycle of poverty and poor educational, social, and health outcomes. Pharmacists will be instrumental in expanding access to EC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)969-977
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Pharmacists Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020


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