Morning-after pill: Plan B OK'd without prescription

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Morning-after pill: Plan B OK'd without prescription

Morning-after pill — Nonprescription Plan B gets FDA approval.

What happened? The Food and Drug Administration has approved the morning-after pill — brand named Plan B — for over-the-counter (OTC) sale to women 18 years old and older.

The morning-after pill, also referred to as "emergency contraception," has been available by prescription since 1999. Females 17 and younger will have access to Plan B by prescription only.

The morning-after pill contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone commonly used in birth control pills. The difference is that the morning-after pill — actually, two pills taken by mouth 12 hours apart — has a higher dose of the hormone.

Taken as directed, up to 72 hours after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, the morning-after pill effectively and safely prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation or preventing fertilization. The sooner it's taken after unprotected intercourse, the more effective it appears to be. The overall rate of effectiveness is about 89 percent.

The morning-after pill is not intended for routine birth control. Side effects similar to those caused by regular birth control pills — nausea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness — have been reported.

What does this mean to you? If you're a woman who is 18 years of age or older, access to Plan B without a prescription gives you an additional, convenient level of protection from unwanted pregnancy. But emergency contraception is intended for emergencies only — it is not a substitute for routine use of an effective method of contraception.

Despite its OTC designation, Plan B won't be stocked in the drugstore aisles with condoms and contraceptive cream. The manufacturer, Duramed, plans a rigorous distribution program allowing only licensed pharmacies and clinics to stock nonprescription Plan B and requiring retailers to keep the product behind the pharmacy counter. Anyone purchasing OTC Plan B will have to show proof of age.

Last Updated: 08/25/2006
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