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"Morning After Pill" Doesn't Change Sex Habits

Easier Access Not Associated With Higher Rates of Unprotected Sex
By
WebMD Health News

Jan 4, 2005 -- Opponents of a move to make the "morning after pill" available without a prescription say that this type of easier access will lead to riskier sexual behaviors. But the largest study ever to examine the issue showed no evidence that this is the case.

The trial involving more than 2,000 young women showed that easier access to emergency contraception was not associated with an increase in riskier sexual behaviors. The women were also not more likely to abandon their use of regular birth control methods.

Women with easier access to the emergency contraception obtained their pills directly through a pharmacy or by advanced provision given to them by their health care providers. For comparison, most women got their pills from their clinics.

At the end of the six-month study, pregnancy rates and rates of sexually transmitted infections were the same among women with and without easier access to emergency contraception.

Rates of unprotected sex were also the same in the two groups. But women with easier access did not always use the morning after pill when they should have, the researchers noted. Their findings are reported in the Jan. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The suggestion has been that women would misuse or abuse emergency contraception," researcher Tina Raine, MD, MPH, tells WebMD. "What we found is that women actually don't use it enough."

The FDA Debate

Debate over whether to allow the emergency birth control pill, known as Plan B, to be sold without a doctor's prescription continues in what many claim to be a politically charged atmosphere. Plan B is now available without prescription in 31 countries. Here in the U.S., six states allow pharmacists to dispense the contraceptive without a doctor's approval.

A year ago, an FDA advisory committee voted to recommend over-the-counter status for the emergency contraceptive, but last May the FDA rejected the advisory committee's recommendation.

FDA officials say they need more information on the long-term safety and use of Plan B in women under the age of 16, despite the fact that the nation's top women's health groups overwhelmingly favor easier access to the emergency contraceptive. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists went so far as to call the FDA refusal a "tragedy for American women."

The FDA is now considering an application by Plan B manufacturer Barr Laboratories to make the emergency contraception available without a prescription to women over the age of 16. The agency is expected to rule on the request next month, but contraceptive researcher Melanie Gold, DO, tells WebMD that she is not optimistic that the ruling will be favorable.

"In this political climate I would be very surprised if they approved it," she says. "It really doesn't make sense to put an age restriction on an over-the-counter product, and even if you did, I can't think of how it would be enforceable. But it would mean better access than we have now."

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