Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius moved to block the unrestricted sale of the morning-after pill to people younger than 17.

President Barack Obama, her boss, supported the decision, which overruled a previous Food & Drug Administration decision to make the contraceptive available to people of all ages directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves, without a prescription.

The emergency contraception products are marketed as Plan B One-Step, Next Choice or Levonorgestrel Tablets. The products may prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse by disrupting ovulation or fertilization.

According to a new study, local dispensaries may need better education on the regulations. Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found that in low-income neighborhoods, misinformation about access to emergency contraception is a common occurrence.

In a letter appearing online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lead author Tracey Wilkinson, MD, MPH, a Fellow in the Division of General Pediatrics at BMC/BUSM, outlines an experiment conducted between September and December 2010.

Female research assistants posing as adolescents who recently had unprotected intercourse were randomly assigned to call every commercial pharmacy in Nashville, Tenn.; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore., following standardized scripts to simulate real-world calls and elicit specific information on emergency contraception availability and access.

In 19 percent of calls, the adolescent was told she could not obtain emergency contraception under any circumstance. In all but 11 calls, the incorrect age was stated as erroneously too high, potentially restricting access.

"Even though we found approximately 80 percent same-day availability of emergency contraception in these metropolitan cities, misinformation regarding access was common-particularly in low-income neighborhoods," said Dr. Wilkinson.

"Our study assessed only telephone calling and not in-person visits. Despite this limitation, the finding that misinformation regarding emergency contraception access is more common in neighborhoods with the highest teen pregnancy rates suggests that targeted consumer or provider education for consumers and pharmacy staff may be necessary," she said. "We look forward to working with various companies, organizations and pharmacy staff to improve education regarding current regulations on emergency contraception access."