"Perhaps it's personalized medicine taken too far."
Most people would say that they are all for increasing a woman's access to contraceptives, but a recent controversy made many question just how accessible was too accessible. That was when it was discovered that a college has a Plan B vending machine. Occasionally, you’ll see an online picture of a vending machine that has something unusual like underwear or drumsticks in it, but this is the first known case where the ever controversial contraception has been made available. The school in question is Shippensburg University, a small school located in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania (a town with a permanent population of about 6,000).
To access the contraception, a student merely has to enter the student health building (a building only accessible to staff and students of the university) and pay $25 dollars. The school argues that they have looked into their student demographics and all their students are older than 17 (the age necessary to be able to acquire the drug without a prescription). The school was taken aback when people began to discuss the vending machine, which had been in place for about 2 years when it started to attract attention.
"I think it's great that the school is giving us this option," Chelsea Wehking, a junior at the university, remarked. "I've heard some kids say they'd be too embarrassed." Chelsea is in good company: about 85% of the student population voted in favor of making Plan B available to the students through the vending machine. But for those who feel it’s a step in the right direction, there is an opposite force arguing that the ramifications of such a setup could be larger than the benefits.
Alexandra Stern, a professor who teaches the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, called into question whether or not the move to help the health of women might actually be doing the students harm. "Perhaps it is personalized medicine taken too far," she said. "It's part of the general trend that drugs are available for consumers without interface with a pharmacist or doctor. This trend has serious pitfalls.”
Among those who are hesitant about the distribution of the contraceptives are the very makers of Plan B, Teva Pharmaceuticals. A spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company released a statement saying that the company supplied the drug only to “licensed pharmacies or other licensed healthcare clinics, which are required to follow federal guidelines for the distribution of pharmaceutical products."
The Pennsylvania Department of State says that the vending machine doesn’t technically break any laws so long as no one under the age of 17 acquires the medication through the vending machine.
One argument against the machine is that because women will no longer have to go to a pharmacy or clinic for the medication, it might deter those who are victims of sexual assault from seeking help.
Rob Maher, a professor at the Duquesne University School of Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, said that although this is the first Plan B dispensing vending machine, it isn’t the first time a vending machine has dispensed medications and drugs. There have previously been machines in doctor’s offices that are specifically made to fill prescriptions. He did wonder if perhaps some students might look at the drug as harmless and seek the medication without having been properly warned of the side effects and risks of the drugs.
"That's the big risk with a vending machine like this," he said.