While one-step emergency contraceptives like Plan B can cost up to $50, two pharmacy vending machines recently implemented on campus offer similar products for just $12.
The vending machines, which were placed in the Cordova Recreational Sports Center and Wilmeth Active Learning Center at the beginning of the semester, are part of a collaboration between the Purdue Pharmacy and the College of Health and Human Sciences. The machines aim to provide students with easier and cheaper ways to access sexual and personal health-care products.
Claudia Pobanz, a student working to increase use of the machines, addressed the embarrassment college-aged people often face when buying sexual health products at stores. The stigmatization of these products has led to fear that buyers will be judged by other customers or cashiers.
With the vending machines, however, students can evade these uncomfortable interactions.
“Number one, you’re going to be saving money,” Pobanz said. “And number two, you get that sense of security and privacy that nobody’s going to see you buying this. You can just put it in your backpack and be on your way.”
Pobanz is a senior in the College of Health and Human Sciences who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She and two other graduate students became involved with the vending machines through an assignment for their Design Analytics of Public Health Analysis class.
The class, taught by professor Andrea DeMaria, challenges students to collaborate with community entities to design and implement a health intervention.
DeMaria runs a research lab called the Interdisciplinary Women’s Reproductive Health Collaborative. The coalition comprises students and scholars in public health, anthropology, communication, biology, engineering and medicine. Its purpose is to conduct research related to reproductive health, the professor said.
DeMaria had previously done research in sexual health that helped contribute to the implementation of the pharmacy vending machines, Pobanz said.
But before the vending machines were marketed to a wide array of students, their use had been extremely limited.
Nearly 300 students, faculty and staff members responded to a random survey in February aimed at gauging student use of the vending machines. Over 95% of the respondents had not used either machine location, and more than 62% said they didn’t know that the machines existed.
“The main goal was to increase the awareness and the use of the vending machines because we want them to be usable on campus and to have people excited about them,” Pobanz said.
The lackluster use led the group to partner with the College of Health and Human Sciences and Purdue Pharmacy to increase engagement.
Alexandra Hughes, a senior in the College of Health and Human Science and member of DeMaria’s coalition, said that after the marketing campaign, emergency contraceptives in the vending machines have been selling out every week.
“We’re all passionate about having those accessible health products on campus,” Pobanz said, “because it’s something that we lack in general, because the (Purdue) pharmacy isn’t open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“And maybe you don’t have a car on campus to buy those products, but it’s just a nice way for students to have access to both medical-health products and sexual-health products to help promote the wellness of campus.”
Looking forward, Pobanz said the group hopes to implement vending machines in every residence hall on campus. By the end of the semester the group aims to propose two new locations. She also mentioned adding one in the Chauncey Hill area for students who live off campus.
The group will present its research to the Provost and Office of the Dean of Students in May, with hopes of receiving funding for the project to expand in the future.
Hughes said her message to administration will be simple: “Students are having sex — that’s just how it is.”
“And their sexual and personal health are important,” she added. “(Administrators) need to have an accessible way for students to have reasonable health care.”
Students can buy the same products offered in the vending machines at the Purdue Pharmacy, located in the Robert E. Heine Pharmacy Building, at a slightly lower price.
The machines are just another way for students to access these products on campus, especially if people need them outside of the pharmacy’s operating hours, Pobanz said.
Students can use the vending machines at WALC at any time of day, provided they swipe their student IDs.
Both the Purdue Pharmacy and its vending machines offer other sexual-health-care products such as condoms, lubricating jelly, pregnancy tests and urinary-pain-relief products at lower prices than other retailers within walking distance of campus.
A pack of condoms in the vending machines costs just $2.50, while the products start for $4.49, $6.59 and $6.99 at Third Street Market, CVS and Target, respectively. Pregnancy tests are $5.75 in the vending machines, while Third Street Market, CVS and Target sell them for $5.99, $10.49 and $8.99.
Nicole Noel, a pharmacist at the Purdue Pharmacy, said the difference stems from the pharmacy buying FDA-approved generic alternatives instead of products from wholesalers. The Purdue Pharmacy doesn’t significantly mark up its products, she said.
“We don’t want price,” she said, “to be a barrier for health care.”