Health Ministry Continues Research on Pharmacy Access to Morning-After Pill Without Prescription; Advocacy Group Calls for Quick Over-the-Counter Availability

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Emergency contraceptives are seen in Tokyo in November.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will continue into the next fiscal year its research study into the trial sale of emergency contraceptives that can be obtained at pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. Based on this fiscal year’s soon-to-be compiled survey results, the ministry will consider potential adjustments to the study, such as increasing the number of pharmacies selling the drug and reviewing the information provided to prospective purchasers.

Women who experience sexual violence or contraceptive failures use the drug to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It can prevent pregnancy in about 80% of cases if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. In approximately 90 countries and regions around the world, it can be purchased at pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. In response to growing calls for over-the-counter availability in Japan, the ministry has been advancing discussions through expert panels.

The research study, commissioned by the ministry and conducted by the Japan Pharmaceutical Association, began in November at 145 pharmacies nationwide. The pill is available to women aged 16 and over, though those aged 16 and 17 are required to be accompanied by a guardian. The association is conducting surveys of women who have purchased the pill to verify whether it can be taken safely with a pharmacist’s guidance alone.

The ministry has determined that the data from this fiscal year is insufficient to verify whether it is appropriate to allow pharmacists to make the pill available without a prescription. The study will continue into the next fiscal year, primarily through the association.

Asuka Someya, co-representative of a citizens’ group advocating for the availability of emergency contraceptives in pharmacies, has called on the ministry not merely to continue research into the drug but to aim for its early over-the-counter availability.