Powerful emergency contraceptives will become even easier for young girls to obtain thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In a February letter to drug manufacturers, the FDA said it would allow pharmacies to sell generic versions of Plan B One-Step—known as the morning-after pill—over the counter without age restrictions.
Following a court order last year, the FDA began allowing pharmacies to sell Plan B over the counter to girls as young as 11 or 12, but did not extend such permission to the cheaper generic versions, Next Choice One Dose and My Way. Under the new rule, the generics can be sold to anyone, but will have to display a label saying they’re intended for ages 17 and up. The label is pointless: Pharmacists won’t be required to check photo IDs.
Some doctors and pharmacists say emergency contraceptives are too dangerous for young girls to take without supervision. They contain a high dose of the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, and some evidence suggests they may increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. Used within 72 hours after sex, they can prevent fertilization, but may sometimes work as an abortifacient by preventing an embryo from implanting in the womb.
“It’s not a benign drug,” Jerry Frederick, a pharmacist in Bloomington, Ind., told The Herald-Times. “Would a 12-year-old girl who took this drug even know what she was taking?” Frederick said he recently refused to sell Plan B pills to a young girl who was six weeks pregnant and wanted to know if she could take four doses: “That would have been medically dangerous.”
Plan B costs about $50. The generics are about $10 less. The new rule will apply after the FDA approves new package labeling for the generics, likely to occur in coming weeks or months.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants to cut car pollution with an ambitious new set of gasoline and tailpipe rules. The so-called Tier 3 standards, announced in March, require petroleum companies to reduce the sulfur content of gasoline by two-thirds in 2017, down to 10 parts per million.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the new rules would safeguard public health, decrease carbon dioxide emissions, and raise the price of a gallon of gasoline by less than 1 cent. But the energy industry said the sulfur standard would require a more extensive refining process and would add 10 cents to each gallon of gas. —D.J.D.
If you couldn’t make heads or tails of a jargon-filled research paper, would you admit to it? Apparently some journal peer reviewers would not. A French computer scientist uncovered around 120 fake research papers that were composed entirely of scientific-sounding gibberish, yet had been accepted for academic publication. The papers were created using a free computer program, called SCIgen, that strings together randomly generated sentences.
It’s not clear who submitted all the papers, which were sometimes falsely attributed to real researchers. But the organizations that published them, Springer and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, claim to review such submissions for accuracy first. They said they would take the nonsense papers off their websites. —D.J.D.