WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Women in California will be able to obtain emergency contraception pills without a prescription under a state law scheduled to take effect on January 1.
The legislation allows pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription after providing patients with a standardized fact sheet outlining the risks associated with the method.
The law was sponsored by the Public Health Institute of California and endorsed by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the California Pharmacists Association, the California Medical Association and other public health organizations.
Advocates say it will help prevent unwanted pregnancies. "Time is of essence with emergency contraception," stressed Dr. Jane Boggess, executive director of the Public Health Institute's Pharmacy Access Partnership, which was formed to recruit and train California pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception.
Opponents of the legislation argue that allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription could lead to misuse of the pills, which are not intended to serve as routine birth control.
The law was modeled after a Washington State program initiated several years ago, under which about 30,000 women have obtained emergency contraception without a prescription.
More than 80 pharmacies in California have declared their intention to dispense the pills without a prescription and more are coming on board each month, according to the Pharmacy Access Partnership. California began a pilot program for nonprescription emergency contraception in April. (See Reuters Health report, April 12, 2001.)
Earlier this year, more than 60 medical, public health and women's groups signed a petition urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to switch emergency contraception pills to nonprescription status. (See Reuters Health report, Feb. 14, 2001.) Studies conducted in Washington State and Canada have shown that such a switch could result in significant healthcare savings.
Two types of emergency contraception are available in the United States by prescription. They are known as Preven, made by Gynetics Inc., and Plan-B, made by Women's Capital Corp.