Jun 5, 2023 - News

Plan B vending machines becoming college campus staples

Boxes of Plan B in a vending machine

Cartons of the "morning-after" pill fill a Plan-B vending machine on a university campus. Photo: Joseph Prezioso / AFP

College campuses nationwide are installing vending machines to distribute emergency contraception such as Plan B.

Driving the news: The push for campus vending machines to dispense the pregnancy-preventing medication has grown since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, limiting abortion access for many students, Kelly Cleland, executive director of the American Society for Emergency Contraception, tells Axios.

Why it matters: While emergency contraception — which can be used after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy — is available without a prescription, it's often locked up or must be specifically requested at a pharmacy counter.

  • The stigma of having to ask for it can prevent young people from seeking out the medication, advocates say.
  • So can the cost, which typically runs from $40 to $50 per dose.

Plus: Some pharmacies don't have the medication in stock, and finding a pharmacy that does can require driving miles away — another barrier for students without cars, Cleland said.

By the numbers: So far, emergency contraception vending machines are installed at more than three dozen college campuses nationwide, according to Cleland's organization.

  • That's more than double the number the organization knew of in 2019, when it first started its campaign called Emergency Contraception for Every Campus, Cleland said.
  • Cleland estimated there's been a fourfold increase in student groups reaching out about how to get one of the machines installed since last year's Supreme Court ruling.

The latest: While students have led most efforts, they're now finding additional support from public officials.

  • In April, Washington's Legislature approved $200,000 to establish vending machines on additional college campuses statewide.
  • Cleland said she doesn't know of any other states that have put money for the campus vending machines in the state budget.

Zoom in: The University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University already have vending machines on their campuses.

  • The Legislature's action will allow other institutions — including community and technical colleges — to apply for $10,000 grants so they can do the same.

What they're saying: Taylor Riley, a University of Washington doctoral student in epidemiology who advocated for the state funding, said the UW machine has been "hugely successful" since its installation last fall.

  • University officials say the machine has sold more than 1,000 doses of emergency contraception since October, averaging about 130 boxes per month.
  • Each dose costs $12.70, a fraction of what it would cost at most pharmacies.
  • The machine is located in a discreet location in a main library that's accessible in the evenings and on weekends, when the student health center is closed, Riley said.

What's next: Riley and other UW students are urging state lawmakers to also pass a law that would require student health centers at public colleges and universities to provide abortion pills. Those pills are different from emergency contraception, as they are used after someone is already pregnant.

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