A California-based program that sends teenagers free condoms in the mail has expanded to San Diego and Fresno counties, which have a combined population of over 4 million. The initiative, the Condom Access Project, is meant to help lower teenage STD and pregnancy rates in the state.
Teenagers in participating areas can enter their name and address into an online form and request up to 10 free condoms per month.
Launched last year, the project is run by the nonprofit California Family Health Council and has sent approximately 30,000 condoms through the mail over the last year, or about 3,000 mailings total. In addition to the mailings, the program designated 65 youth-related organizations to receive free condoms to hand out to adolescents.
According to the California Board of Public Health, San Diego County has the state's second highest rate of chlamydia for teenagers between the ages o f 15 and 19. Fresno county has the seventh highest number of gonorrhea cases in California for adolescents between 15 and 19. In 2011 there were 0.29 births for every 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19 in California.
"We really can't keep our heads in the sand and pretend like there isn't a problem," Amy Moy of the California Family Health Council told ABCNews.com affiliate WAFB-TV.
The program costs approximately $5,000 per county and, in addition to San Diego and Fresno county, operates in select San Francisco districts, Alameda, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Kern counties. Teens can request up to 10 condoms per month through mailings, they also receive educational material in the package.
"We have high STD rates in San Joaquin County, and youth are most affected," said Dr. Cora Hoover, the assistant health officer in San Joaquin County. "Increased availability of condoms through the Condom Access Project is an important strategy to reduce STDs and unintended pregnancies for youth in our county."
The program's expansion was announced a few days before the Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency contraceptive Plan B for over-the-counter use for women over the age of 15.
Jennifer Coburn, director of communications at Planned Parenthood of Pacific Southwest, said that even though there are centers that provide free condoms to teenagers, some adolescents might be wary of using them.
"It' s a combination of things," Coburn told ABCNews.com. "I think it's an embarrassment, but if you haven't been to a Planned Parenthood it might be a scary prospect to go to a reproductive health center."
Coburn said a friend of her teenage daughter asked for help getting condoms after being too intimidated to enter a Planned Parenthood center on her own.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 represented 18 percent of all gonorrhea cases and 26 percent of all chlamydia cases in California.