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Student Study: Access to emergency contraception in Arizona and Utah

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Written by Stephanie Carlson on January 29, 2018

It has taken all four years of pharmacy school but student Rupa Parikh has now completed her study on emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill) availability, specifically in Arizona and Utah, and she’s getting a lot of recognition.

The poster of her study recently won Top Poster at the 32nd Annual Student Research Forum. There were over 60 presenters from the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Public Health, and the Graduate School, so it is a great accomplishment. She was awarded $320 and judges said her study was an “important health topic for women, the study was well designed and the results have the potential for addressing emergency contraceptive (EC) access and proper administration. Moving forward, Parikh is completing a manuscript with the hopes of being published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The objectives of her study were to recognize the importance of “complete access” of emergency contraception and the need for accurate information conveyed by pharmacists, understand the primary and secondary endpoints of this health-impact assessment, and determine the long-term implications of barriers to accessing emergency contraception. To perform the study, Parikh enlisted the help of CU Pharmacy faculty member Laura Borgelt, PharmD along with Carol Stamm, MD, Garth Wright, MPH, Melissa Gamble, BA, Leanne Rupp, LCSW, and Rachel Johnson, BA.

In 2014, the FDA approved over the counter (OTC) access of emergency contraception for all ages. To address accessibility, Parikh and those assisting with her study, called over 1,000 pharmacies in Arizona and Utah. The caller posed as a 16-year-old female student, weighing around 180 pounds, seeking emergency contraception. The caller followed a telephone script that included questions regarding EC availability, product location in the pharmacy, availability of a generic, whether an ID was required (there’s no age restriction on purchasing EC), and whether the pharmacist knew effectiveness in regards to weight. Recent studies have suggested that emergency contraception isn’t as effective in women with a higher body mass index (BMI).

What her study discovered:

  • Access to EC remains a concern despite its OTC status
  • EC was “completely accessible” in approximately half of the pharmacies in AZ and UT. Complete accessibility is defined in her study as whether the product was in stock, available on the shelf (not behind a pharmacy counter) and whether the pharmacy knew to offer the product without an age restriction
  • Consumers in AZ were significantly less likely to have complete access to EC than consumers in UT
  • Chain pharmacies were significantly more likely to have complete access to EC than independent pharmacies
  • Some gaps appear to exist in pharmacy employee knowledge and/or policy regarding OTC status and removal of the age restriction
  • Comprehensive education may benefit all pharmacy employees to reduce EC access barriers and provide information to prevent unintended pregnancies

Parikh says she started this project because she had an interest in women’s health and clinical research, “I wanted to get involved and understand the different paths I could take with pharmacy.” When she first entered school at CU Pharmacy, she thought she would be more interested in clinical pharmacy, but then she did her APPE (Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience) rotation at Allergan, a multi-national pharmaceutical company that produces branded and generic drugs, and performs pharmaceutical research and development. Her rotation is what shifted her interest to clinical research.

Parikh is currently working on a manuscript of her study to be present to for publishing. Congratulations to her!!

Topics: Research, Students