The American Academy of Pediatrics is fighting back against teen pregnancy with revised recommendations on emergency contraception.
The organization is encouraging physicians to talk about medications like Plan B and Next Choice in their discussions with their adolescent patients -- both boys and girls -- on safe sex.
The United States has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy among developed countries. Nearly 80% of teen pregnancies are unplanned, a result of contraception failure or nonuse, according to the AAP.
The use of emergency contraception has been around since the 1970s, when doctors often advised patients to double up on their regular birth control pills in a method called "Yuzpe." Since then several products have been approved for use by prescription and over-the-counter. Yet lead author Dr. Cora Beurner said there are still many people who don't know about emergency contraception or have unfounded fears about using it.
Emergency contraception is designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It works by inhibiting ovulation and disrupting the production of key cells needed in a woman's body to conceive. It works best if taken up to 24 hours after intercourse, although it lowers pregnancy risk if taken within 120 hours (five days). It will not work if you are already pregnant.
Emergency contraception is available with a prescription for all patients and available over-the-counter for women over the age of 17. The pills cost around $80.
Most pediatricians are accustomed to discussing safe sex with their patients, according to Beurner, a professor of adolescent medicine and pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. The AAP is recommending doctors have emergency contraception on hand for those who need it right away and be willing to write teenagers a prescription for Plan B or Next Choice for future use.
"They can keep the prescription in their wallet and if they have the need for it, they could go anywhere," Beurner said. "This is a 'just-in-case.'"
It should be emphasized to patients that emergency contraception is solely for emergencies, the AAP statement notes, and should not be used as a regular method to prevent pregnancy.
There are no serious side effects to emergency contraception, Beurner said. Although parents are often concerned that having a "back-up" will increase a teen's risky behavior, studies have shown that not to be the case.
Even if a physician is morally against emergency contraception, they have an obligation to offer the option to their patients, the AAP statement says.