Emergency Contraceptive Drug: Establish System to Reduce Burden on Women in Desperate Situations

Over-the-counter sales of emergency contraceptive pills have started at pharmacies on a trial basis in order to prevent unintended pregnancies due to sexual violence and other reasons. It is hoped that the move will help ascertain the drug’s effectiveness and illuminate its challenges, leading to the establishment of a system to better protect women.

The drug is intended for use by women who have suffered sexual violence or experienced contraceptive failure. It is said to delay ovulation and prevent pregnancy with an efficacy rate of 80%. It is more effective the earlier it is taken after sexual intercourse, and it must be taken no later than within 72 hours.

The trial sales will continue until March next year at 145 pharmacies nationwide, where pharmacists who have received training are stationed. Previously, such drugs were not available in Japan without a doctor’s prescription.

When the drug is needed, it is difficult to take it quickly if a medical institution is closed or is not located nearby. If the drug can be purchased at a nearby pharmacy, the risk of missing the appropriate intake window is likely to be reduced.

However, the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has expressed concerns such as about the possibility of the drug being resold. Some people also argue that if doctors no longer see patients to prescribe the drug, opportunities to detect sexual violence will be missed.

The drug is expected to be priced at ¥7,000 to ¥9,000 per pill. Women aged 16 and older can purchase the drug, but 16- and 17-year-olds must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Given this rule, 16- and 17-year-olds might have a greater risk of pregnancy if they cannot obtain the drug because they could not tell their parents. On the other hand, if the drug is sold easily to young people, there is a risk of abuse. In addition to the pros and cons of the over-the-counter sales, it is hoped that discussions will be held to find an appropriate way to sell the drug.

Participating pharmacies make the drug available even at night and on holidays and set aside private rooms for the privacy of the drug’s purchasers. The government should disseminate information in an easy-to-understand manner about the names of pharmacies where the drug can be purchased and the drug’s sale method, among other matters.

The government considered the possibility of the drug’s over-the-counter sales in 2017, but shelved the idea after cautious views arose. In 2020, the government then included in its Basic Plan for Gender Equality an initiative to consider the use of the drug without a prescription, opening the way for discussions once again.

If a woman who has suffered sexual violence visits a pharmacy, the pharmacy needs to work closely with medical institutions and police to enable the woman to receive necessary treatment and support.

If women have to go through abortion or isolated birth without medical personnel present, the impact on their body and problems with childcare could take a heavy toll on them physically and mentally.

It is essential to disseminate correct knowledge. Emergency contraceptive pills are intended to deal with unforeseen circumstances. It is crucial to understand how to use them, and their characteristics.

It is also important to enhance sex education, especially for young people, so they can learn about such matters as the mechanism of pregnancy and contraceptive methods.

At the same time, amid the falling birth rate, it is hoped that such education will convey the wonderfulness and joy of having a family and raising children, and that a society in which people can feel such things will be created.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 2, 2023)