Sept. 24, 2012 -- The pilot program that allows teens to access the contraceptive drug Plan B in 13 New York City schools -- perhaps the first of its kind in the country -- may be eventually implemented citywide.
According to the city's Board of Health, parents can "opt out" of the program, but only 1 to 2 percent has chosen to do so.
"The proof is in the pudding," said health department spokesman Chanel Caraway. "Overall, this suggests that parents are OK with the service being available to their children."
Last year, when the plan was implemented, about 4.7 percent of the 12,000 girls enrolled in those schools was given the prescription drug, according to the Board of Health. Students ranged in age from 14 to 18.
This year, the program was expanded from five to 13 schools, and Caraway said they intend to continue expanding to eventually cover all of the city's public schools.
New York City's program appears to be unique, according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), which works with school health educators in reproductive education.
"I have not come across any other like program," said NASN Executive Director Donna Mazyck.
Plan B, also known as the "morning after" pill, works in a similar way to birth control pills, except it is taken after sex to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, according to its manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals. The pill should be taken as soon as possible within 72 hours of unprotected sex or birth control failure.
Plan B should not "affect or terminate" an existing pregnancy, according to the company's advertising.
New York City's pilot program, Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health or CATCH, is aimed at stemming the teen pregnancy rate, which causes many girls to leave school.
Teen pregnancy rates dropped 25 percent in the city between 2001 and 2010, according to the Department of Health.
The CATCH program targets selected schools in poorer districts without health centers.
Parents are sent a letter informing them of the availability of contraception. If they do not check a box telling the school not to distribute contraceptives to their child, the student may access the drugs without permission.
"We wait about a month to give parents a chance to read the letter and opt out," said Caraway. "After that, any student at one of these schools can get emergency contraception or a pregnancy test if they feel they may be pregnant or have had unprotected sex."
Students have long had access to condoms in the city schools.
Last year, Department of Health doctors prescribed Plan B to 567 students. Another 580 students received hormonal birth control pills. This fall, teens will also have access to Depo-Provera, an injectable form of birth control.
Students Support Birth Control Program
Scyatta A. Wallace, a New York City psychologist and founder and CEO of Janisaw Company, which specializes in life skills programs for young women, said she has "mixed feelings" about providing Plan B without explicit parental consent.
She acknowledges that providing contraception does not "encourage" more sexual activity and that most parents "try hard" to educate their teens about sexual health and values. But other parents do a poor job talking to their teens.
"I do think we need to use caution in providing the Plan B pill to teens who may not fully understand why and how to use it," said Wallace.
She said schools should have a protocol for how the contraceptive drugs will be distributed and need to provide follow-up to make sure the teen is "physically OK and to help them make more responsible decision in the future."
"There really isn't enough comprehensive sexual health education provided in the schools in general, so it is alarming that they would offer Plan B in the absence of that," said Wallace.
According to the Board of Health, 7,000 girls under age 17 got pregnant last year throughout New York City and 90 percent were unplanned. Of those, 64 percent were aborted. About 2,200 teens became mothers by age 17.