The Baltimore Health Department plans to begin offering the new Norplant birth control device to women as young as 16 by the end of the year, an assistant health commissioner said yesterday.
Nira R. Bonner said the new procedure could be particularly beneficial to young, sexually active women who often do not bother to use other birth control methods.
She noted that teen mothers produce 1 of every 4 of the city's 13,000 births annually.
"I think it is going to have a positive impact in reducing unwanted pregnancies," Ms. Bonner said.
"It is a better technique, it's safer and it gives you longer protection," she added.
The birth control method, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only six months ago, involves injecting six toothpick-shaped capsules beneath the skin of the inner biceps.
The capsules release a trickle of contraceptive hormone into the bloodstream for five years, but can be removed at any time to allow fertility to return within 24 hours.
The contraceptive device, which is being used in public health clinics throughout Maryland, would be added to the range of contraceptive methods offered to people 16 years and older from the city's main family planning clinic at the corner of North and Pennsylvania avenues.
Parental consent would not be needed to receive the device, health officials said.
Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, chairman of the council's health subcommittee, said he was concerned that recipients of the device might wrongly believe that because the treatment reduces their risk of pregnancy, they no longer should be concerned about sexually transmitted diseases.
"I am concerned about making sure that young girls, 16 or 17, who can receive this without parental consent get a tremendous amount of counseling so they don't think that for the next five years they can go out and do what they want to do without risking sexually transmitted disease," Mr. Stokes said. "We don't want to be doing anything that appears to be sanctioning promiscuity."
Ms. Bonner said recipients of the device would receive counseling to try to ensure that they understand that Norplant does not offer protection from diseases.
State health department officials announced in April that they would help cover the $425 cost of providing the new birth-control device for women who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford to pay for the contraceptive themselves, by making use of a $93,000 Abell Foundation grant.