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Most British Pharmacists Support the Morning-After Pill

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 29, 1999 (Atlanta) -- The majority of pharmacists in the United Kingdom are willing to supply emergency contraception without a prescription, according to a study conducted by the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England. Advocates say the finding is an important step in making the morning-after pill more widely available.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 pharmacists and learned that 75% are in favor of supplying emergency contraception over the counter. The pharmacists expressed a number of concerns including training issues, inaccessibility of medical records, and a potential decrease in condom use. However, the chief investigator says the findings represent a groundswell toward wider availability.

"At present, the morning-after pill is only available with a prescription from doctors and family planning clinics," says Neil Cooper, PhD, an instructor at the University of East Anglia School of Nursing and Midwifery. "Educational efforts have not impacted unwanted pregnancy and abortion among teenagers." Since the findings were announced, retail pharmacies and family planners have joined forces to build awareness in an attempt to tackle the problem.

"Access to emergency contraception can be a major problem because of the time limit [for the medication to be effective]," says Roger Odd, chairman of Pharmacy Healthcare. "This campaign will give women the information they need in advance so that they can be better prepared." Odd's pharmacy outlets will distribute a wallet-sized card with information about availability during the holidays.

Family planners say there's confusion about how the morning-after pill prevents pregnancy. "Many women are unaware that emergency contraception can be taken up to three days after unprotected sex but is most effective when taken within 24 hours," says Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association. "The hormone pills cause the lining of the uterus to slough like a normal menstrual period. This prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, so it shouldn't be confused with RU-486, or the so-called abortion pill [which is taken early in pregnancy and triggers a chemical abortion]." Some family planning clinics are prescribing the morning-after pill in preparation for the holidays.

"We're asking young people to plan ahead and make sure they're prepared to party safely and enter the new millennium without regrets," says Alison Hadley, the national policy officer for Brooke Advisory Centres. "It just makes sense for women to be prepared," says Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. "After all, nobody waits for a headache to buy aspirin."

These initiatives in the United Kingdom were followed by a groundbreaking French policy. "School nurses will be able to prescribe the morning-after pill when a doctor or family planning center can't be reached," says Segolene Royal, the Deputy Education Minister of France. The new policy, intended to decrease unwanted pregnancies among teenagers, has sparked a fierce debate on whether it will lead to unprotected sex. In the U.S., some nurses can also prescribe emergency contraception.

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