Barriers to Adolescents' Getting Emergency Contraception Through Pharmacy Access in California: Differences by Language and Region

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In California, emergency contraception is available without a prescription to females younger than 18 through pharmacy access. Timely access to the method is critical to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy among adolescents, particularly Latinas.


In 2005-2006, researchers posing as English- and Spanish-speaking females—who said they either were 15 and had had unprotected intercourse last night or were 18 and had had unprotected sex four days ago—called 115 pharmacy-access pharmacies in California. Each pharmacy received one call using each scenario; a call was considered successful if the caller was told she could come in to obtain the method. Chi-square tests were used to assess differences between subgroups. In-depth interviews with 22 providers and pharmacists were also conducted, and emergent themes were identified.


Thirty-six percent of all calls were successful. Spanish speakers were less successful than English speakers (24% vs. 48%), and callers to rural pharmacies were less successful than callers to urban ones (27% vs. 44%). Although rural pharmacies were more likely to offer Spanish-language services, Spanish-speaking callers to these pharmacies were the least successful of all callers (17%). Spanish speakers were also less successful than English speakers when calling urban pharmacies (30% vs. 57%). Interviews suggested that little cooperation existed between pharmacists and clinicians and that dispensing the method at clinics was a favorable option for adolescents.


Adolescents face significant barriers to obtaining emergency contraception, but the expansion of Spanish-language services at pharmacies and greater collaboration between providers and pharmacists could improve access.

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