Volume 7 Issue 189
Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 8-Jul-2005 
Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 9-Jul-2005

Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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OTC emergency contraception does not encourage unsafe sex

(8 July 2005: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Allowing emergency hormonal contraception to be sold over the counter in the United Kingdom has not increased its use or changed patterns of use, finds a study published online by the BMJ today.

These results suggest that the predicted rise in unsafe sex has been overstated, and supports the case for lifting the ban on over the counter sales in the United States and other countries.

Since January 2001, emergency hormonal contraception (EHC), commonly known as the ‘morning-after pill’ has been available without prescription across Britain to women aged 16 or over at a cost of £20-25.

Opponents claimed this would lead to “abuse” and encourage unsafe sex, particularly among teenagers, while supporters argued that easier access would help to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Using national survey data, researchers examined use of EHC among British women aged 16 to 49 years to assess the impact of making it available over the counter.

The level of use of different contraceptives remained very similar before and after EHC was made available over the counter. No significant change occurred in the proportion of women using EHC (8.4% in 2000, 7.9% in 2001, and 7.2% in 2002) or having unprotected sex.

A change did, however, occur in where women obtained EHC. A smaller proportion obtained it from general practitioners and NHS clinics and a greater proportion bought it over the counter, but overall use remained the same.

No significant change occurred in the proportion of women using more regular methods of contraception, such as the oral contraceptive pill, or in the proportion of women using EHC more than once during a year.

Making emergency hormonal contraception available over the counter does not seem to have led to an increase in its use, to an increase in unprotected sex, or to a decrease in the use of more reliable methods of contraception, say the authors. Despite some weakness, this study has important policy implications.

Source: Impact on contraceptive practice of making emergency hormonal contraception available over the counter in Great Britain: repeated cross sectional surveys BMJ Online First

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