September 1998

Should emergency contraceptive pills be available without prescription?

Ellertson C, Trussell J, Stewart FH, Winikoff B. Should emergency contraceptive pills be available without prescription? Journal of the American Medical Women's Association. 1998; 53(5 Suppl 2):226-9, 232.

Leading health agencies, including the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration, consider emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) safe and effective and have called for better access to them. Yet debate about whether ECPs should continue to be available by prescription only has been limited. After measuring the characteristics of ECPs against criteria developed to assess the necessity for prescription status for drugs generally, we argue that ECPs can safely be marketed over the counter. Professional assistance is not necessary since the woman diagnoses her own need for the pills and takes them herself. ECPs do not need to be adjusted for the individual woman and pose no potential threat of overdose or addiction. There are no contraindications except confirmed pregnancy (in which case the therapy will not work), and monitoring is not necessary. We conclude that prescription requirements that keep ECPs from women provide little, if any, benefit.