WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Sales of the Plan B "morning-after pill" nearly doubled in the past year, exceeding expectations after the U.S. government allowed adults to buy the emergency contraceptive without a prescription.
A three-year battle ended last August when the Food and Drug Administration decided that women and men 18 and older could buy the Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. product without a doctor's order if they showed proof of age at a pharmacy.
"More women know about it, and it's just becoming much more part of their mainstream reproductive health care," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said.
Plan B pills contain higher doses of progestin, a hormone used in prescription birth-control pills for 35 years. Two Plan B pills reduce odds of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, studies show.
Plan B sales hit about $40 million a year when the product required a prescription for all women. Industry analysts and Barr projected nonprescription access for adults, approved in August 2006, could boost sales to about $60 million in 2007.
The popularity of Plan B has exceeded those estimates.
Barr launched the nonprescription version last November, and the company predicts 2007 sales will reach about $80 million.
"We believe (sales) will continue to grow," Barr spokeswoman Carol Cox said.
Foes seek more limits
Opponents of wider access say that is exactly what they had feared. Conservative and religious groups argued that easy availability would promote promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases among teens and others.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, a group that opposed Plan B sales without a doctor's order, said minors may be obtaining it without a prescription or some women may be using it more than once.
"The high sales may indicate that our concerns are occurring," Wright said.
Some organizations want states to effectively limit Plan B access, but those efforts largely have failed to advance.
Family-planning groups say some women have reported trouble getting Plan B, with some pharmacists declining to dispense it or stores refusing to carry it.
Genevieve DeLucchi, 26, of North Carolina, said the first two pharmacies she visited last year did not have it in stock. She was able to buy it at a third.
After that, DeLucchi became a volunteer shopper for Planned Parenthood to gauge availability at stores. At some pharmacies she found "a lot of them had it, but they didn't know what to tell" customers about how to use it, or seemed reluctant to discuss it.
Barr and other backers want the age limit for non-prescription sales removed. Legal challenges on both sides are pending.
The Center for Reproductive Rights said a judge in New York may rule anytime on its argument that the FDA's decision-making was flawed and Plan B should be available without a prescription to women of all ages.
Concerned Women for America and other groups challenged the FDA decision last April in federal court in the District of Columbia. They want a doctor's order for all sales.