Food and Drug Administration: Decision Process to Deny Initial Application for Over-the-Counter Marketing of the Emergency Contraceptive Drug Plan B Was Unusual

GAO-06-109 Published: Nov 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2005.
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In April 2003, Women's Capital Corporation submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting the marketing status of its emergency contraceptive pill(ECP), Plan B, be switched from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC). ECPs can be used to prevent an unintended pregnancy when contraception fails or after unprotected intercourse, including cases of sexual assault. In May 2004, the Acting Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) issued a "not-approvable" letter for the switch application, citing safety concerns about the use of Plan B in women under 16 years of age without the supervision of a health care practitioner. Because the not-approvable decision for the Plan B OTC switch application was contrary to the recommendations of FDA's joint advisory committee and FDA review staff, questions were raised about FDA's process for arriving at this decision. GAO was asked to examine (1) how the decision was made to not approve the switch of Plan B from prescription to OTC, (2) how the Plan B decision compares to the decisions for other proposed prescription-to-OTC switches from 1994 through 2004, and (3) whether there are age-related marketing restrictions for prescription Plan B and other prescription and OTC contraceptives. To conduct this review, GAO examined FDA's actions prior to the May 6, 2004, not-approvable letter for the initial application.

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