Effects of making emergency contraception available without a physician's prescription: a population-based study

Soon, Judith A.; Levine, Marc; Osmond, Brenda L.; Ensom, Mary H. H.; Fielding, David W.
March 2005
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;3/29/2005, Vol. 172 Issue 7, p878
Academic Journal
Background: Timely access to emergency contraception has the potential to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions. A public health policy initiative in British Columbia beginning in December 2000 allowed pharmacists to provide emergency contraceptives (ECs) without a prescription. We sought to determine changes in EC use after the policy was introduced and to analyze EC use with data generated by the policy. Methods: All Ovral, Preven and Plan B EC prescriptions from Jan. 1, 1996, to Dec. 31, 2003, were identified through the BC PharmaNet and Medical Services Plan administrative databases and the data analyzed to determine changes between 1996 and 2002. Changes over time were determined in the frequency of EC provision, choice of EC agent, frequency of EC use by age group, repeat use and geographic distribution of EC prescription for the pre- and post-policy periods. Anonymized patient-specific data from treatment consent forms were used to describe the reason for EC use, interval between unprotected intercourse and EC prescription, proportion prescribed for immediate or future use, referrals for regular birth control and STD screening and concomitant antiemetic use. Consent data also provided the time in the menstrual cycle that the EC was requested. Results: The number of EC prescriptions increased from a pre-policy mean of 8805 (99% confidence interval 7823-9787) in the years 1996 to 2000 to a post-policy total in 2002 of 17 794. Physicians prescribed the levonorgestrel regimen (Plan B) less frequently than did pharmacists. The frequency of EC use was highest among women aged 20-24 years across all study years, and all age groups demonstrated a post-policy increase in use. On average, 2.1% of the women received an EC 3 or more times a year over the period of the study. More women in urban regions received ECs than women in more rural areas of the province. Analysis of pharmacist treatment consent forms used in 2001 and 2002 showed...


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