Improving access to emergency contraception

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7280.186/a (Published 27 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:186

Allowing pharmacy sales should help reduce unwanted pregnancies

  1. Mira Harrison-Woolrych, senior medical assessor,
  2. Andrea Duncan, contraceptive services manager, public health division,
  3. Jeannette Howe, deputy chief pharmacist,
  4. Conamore Smith (conniesmith@compuserve.com), director, clinical effectiveness unit
  1. Post-Licensing Division, Medicines Control Agency, London SW8 5NQ
  2. Department of Health, London SW1A 2NL
  3. Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, London NW1 4QP

    From 1 January this year pharmacists in the United Kingdom have been able to supply progestogen-only emergency contraception without a prescription. Within the next few weeks a product containing levonorgestrel 750 μg (Levonelle) will be widely available for purchase by women aged 16 and over. Direct sale through pharmacies should make access to emergency contraception easier for many women, but current NHS routes of provision of emergency contraception will still exist and remain important.

    Emergency contraception is intended for use after intercourse, but before blastocyst implantation. In the United Kingdom two hormonal regimens are licensed as prescription only medicines for use within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. A combination of oestrogen and progestogen (Schering PC4, ethinylestradiol 100 μg plus levonorgestrel 500 μg repeated 12 hours later) has been available since 1984 and a progestogen-only regimen (Levonelle-2, levonorgestrel 750 μg repeated 12 hours later) since 1999. Although less effective than standard hormonal contraception used correctly, emergency contraception may be needed when routine methods have not been used or …

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