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INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Canadian Regulatory Authority Recommends Stocking Plan B on Drug Store Shelves

INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Canadian Regulatory Authority Recommends Stocking Plan B on Drug Store Shelves
[May 19, 2008]

Canada's National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities on Wednesday recommended that the emergency contraceptive Plan B be sold without a prescription and available on pharmacy shelves, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports.

Canada in 2005 allowed the drug to be sold without a prescription but was a behind-the-counter product that had to be distributed by pharmacy staff. The proposed change would allow the product to be stocked on shelves near the pharmacy counter, so customers can ask advice on its use. NAPRA advises provincial and territorial pharmacy regulatory authorities, which then make final decisions in their own jurisdictions.

Montreal-based Paladin Labs produces Plan B in Canada under the generic name levonorgestrel. The company said the pill is 95% effective at preventing unintended pregnancy when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. According to Paladin, sales of Plan B increased by 70% in 2006.

If Canada's provinces and territories agree with the recommendation, the country will join India, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in selling EC over the counter, the Toronto Star reports (Taylor, Toronto Star, 5/16). In the U.S., people ages 18 and older can buy Plan B without a prescription if they show proof of age at a pharmacy, but girls ages 17 and younger need a prescription (Reuters, 5/15).

Reaction

According to the AP/Herald Tribune, allowing EC to be stocked on pharmacy shelves has been a "contentious issue" in Canada. Opponents say it would promote teenage promiscuity. Supporters say it would reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Farrukh Rehan, group product director for women's health at Paladin, said, "There are a number of studies that clearly indicate that women's sexual behavior does not change with the availability of Plan B, that there is no difference between women under or over 18 on this issue."

The Canadian Pharmacists Association, which opposes the change, said that pharmacist consultations should be required. "Studies have reported that women frequently have misconceptions and questions about [EC] and their contraceptive methods," Louise Crandall, spokesperson for the group, said, adding, "When providing Plan B, pharmacists provide information about birth control and safe sex, and often refer women to other health care providers for ongoing care." However, Vyta Senikas, associate vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, said, "Now women will now have an easier time obtaining Plan B, but that doesn't mean we let go of the aspect of counseling." She added, "Patients have to be made aware of using the drug properly by women discussing it with a pharmacist" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 5/15).

Jane Pepino, chair of the Ontario Women's Health Council, which opposes restrictions on EC, said, "Women were aware of [EC], using it and giving great feedback," adding, "One downside was they had to sit in the pharmacy and tell their intimate sexual history in a not terribly private place. But we can only guess how many unwanted pregnancies it prevented" (Toronto Star, 5/16).