The emergency contraceptive pill (morning-after pill) contains a hormone called levonorgestrel and can be bought without a prescription. It’s used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, but many women are uncomfortable with their interaction with pharmacists when buying this drug.
The morning-after pill is licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to be used within three days of unprotected sex, but there’s evidence that it’s effective for up to four days. Still, the sooner it is taken, the more effective it is.
It’s available as a tablet and is classified as “Pharmacist Only” medicine. The law requires pharmacists to supply such medicines only for a therapeutic need, and to personally deliver or supervise their delivery, and personally give directions for their use. To establish a therapeutic need, a pharmacist must ask the customer questions about her medical problem, medical history and the medications she’s taking.
Our recent study of emergency contraceptive pill recommendations by pharmacists across Australia found that most of them used the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s (PSA) written protocol to guide their supply. Pharmacists tended to follow the protocol rigidly, rather than using their discretion.
As recommended, many provided information to women about the emergency contraception in a part of the pharmacy where confidentiality could be assured. But 62% of the women we spoke to expressed concern about the lack of privacy. What’s more, many women were confused about this type of pill – some thought it caused an abortion (32%) and others that it would cause defects if they were to fall pregnant later (61%).