3/31/2006

AP Gets the Story Wrong, Again

Another week, another factually-challenged AP story. The article reports on a measure to make Plan B available OTC in Colorado (emphasis mine):

DENVER - Colorado lawmakers approved and sent to the governor on Friday a measure that would allow women to go straight to a pharmacist to get the morning-after pill.

Currently in Colorado, Plan B, as the emergency contraceptive is called, requires a doctor's prescription. Under the bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, a pharmacist could dispense it without a prescription.

Republican Gov. Bill Owens said he has not decided whether to sign or veto the bill.

"In this case, we're going to have a drug that in certain instances can have significant side effects prescribed by a pharmacist without a doctor or their parents knowing," Owens said.

Five states have made Plan B available without a prescription: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico.

The Food and Drug Administration had considered allowing emergency contraception to be sold over the counter but postponed a decision last August, a move some activists say was based on politics rather than science.


In fact, nine states--Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington State--have made Plan B available without a prescription. How hard is it to report this simple fact correctly?

And while I'm asking questions, what exactly is the role of an AP health reporter--parrot, or, um, reporter?

When the article quotes Gov. Owens making an incorrect statement, namely that Plan B in certain instances can have significant side effects*, shouldn't the reporter either 1) point out the mistake to the Governor, and report that, or 2) insure that the readers are aware of Gov. Owens' false statement by quoting an accurate source?

In a story about Plan B, if you get the availability wrong, and you get the side effects wrong, what you're left with is correctly reporting the name of the drug. Is that enough of a standard for AP?

*There is only one absolute contraindication to using Plan B, pregnancy, and there are no serious side effects associated with its use.

For both combination and progestin-only emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs):

Almost all women can safely use ECPs. The only absolute contraindication to use of emergency contraceptive pills (a.k.a. ECPs, "morning after pills" or "day after pills") is confirmed pregnancy, simply because ECPs will not work if a woman is pregnant. There are no long term or serious side effects from using ECPs. About 50% of women who take combined ECPs experience nausea and 20% vomit. If vomiting occurs within 1 hour after taking a dose, some clinicians recommend repeating that dose. The non-prescription anti-nausea medicine meclizine reduces the risk of nausea by 27% and vomiting by 64% when two 25 mg tablets are taken 1 hour before combined ECPs, but the risk of drowsiness is doubled (to about 30%). The risk of nausea and vomiting with progestin-only ECPs is far lower than the risk with combined ECPs: 23% experience nausea and 6% vomit.

Other side effects of ECPs include fatigue, headache, dizziness, and breast tenderness.

Grand Rounds

Don't forget to check out this week's Grand Rounds.

9/08/2004