A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has found that UK pharmacies who provide fast and convenient access to the morning-after pill (RU 486) could be helping to prevent 10 percent more unwanted pregnancies. Conducted by researchers from South West Kent Primary Care Trust and the University of Bradford, the study focused on women aged between 13 and 20 who obtained the medication from either family planning clinics or pharmacies.
Those women who went to a pharmacy to get the morning-after pill obtained it more than twice as quickly as those who went to their local clinic - in 16 hours rather than 41. This was an important finding, say the researchers, as taking emergency contraception up to 24 hours after unprotected sex prevents 95 percent of pregnancies, while taking it between 24 and 48 hours later prevents 85 percent. The study also found that 72 percent of those who obtained the morning-after pill from clinics were aged between 15 and 17, while 74 percent who went to pharmacies were between 16 and 18. Interestingly, one-third of the girls under 16 and two-thirds of the girls over 16 said they needed the morning-after pill because of contraceptive failure (a split condom or missed oral contraceptive).
"The UK currently has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe and the highest rate of live births among teenagers" said Dr Kay Marshall, from the University of Bradford. While emergency contraception was an effective emergency measure, recognizing the time factor was critical in its effectiveness, added Marshall. "The name is a bit misleading, because it can actually be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, not just the morning after. But as the effectiveness of the morning-after pill declines significantly with time - it works best if taken within 24 hours - it's essential that it can be obtained as soon as possible."
The morning-after pill has traditionally been provided free in the UK by family doctors and family planning clinics. It became available over-the-counter at pharmacies in 2001. Now, however, selected community pharmacists can provide it free of charge to females under 20 as long as they feel that all the appropriate conditions have been satisfied and that she is competent to make the decision to take it. This was an important development according to the researchers, especially for young girls who can't afford to pay the over-the-counter cost.
"Our study suggests that community pharmacists are providing a valuable role in preventing unwanted pregnancies by supplying the morning-after pill and backing this up with advice on contraception and sexual health" said Gaye Lewington from SouthWest Kent Primary Care Trust. "Recent studies have suggested that allowing pharmacies to supply the morning-after pill does not compromise contraceptive practice or sexual behavior. This is very important because encouraging females to practice safe sex is just as much a priority as preventing unwanted pregnancies."
Source: British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology