British pharmacy offers morning after pill online

contraception-onlineLloyds Pharmacy has become the first high-street chemist to offer the ‘morning after’ pill emergency contraception online.

The pharmacy’s website gives the option to buy between one and three emergency contraception pills online, so women can be prepared prior to any accident.

Users need to complete a confidential health questionnaire before completing an order, which is reviewed by a GP.  By using this questionnaire system, the company hopes to avoid selling contraception to girls under 18.

Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within 3 days (72 hours) of unprotected sex, but can potentially prevent pregnancy if taken up to 5 days after.

The pills on the Lloyd’s website take 72 hours to arrive, however.  This delay is deliberate so that women who have already had unprotected sex and need emergency contraception immediately head straight to a local pharmacy, GP or family planning clinic rather than risk missing the crucial efficacy period while waiting on the postman.

Instead, the idea of online ordering is to allow women to have an advance supply to ‘prepare for the unexpected’. Steve Marinker, spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy, explains that women might find an advanced supply of the morning after pill useful for circumstances where it might otherwise be difficult to get hold of contraception within the crucial 3-day time window. “Maybe something’s gone wrong with their normal contraception and it’s a Saturday night,” he added, “and they might be anxious about how long it will take them to get a morning after pill, and that they might have to wait until Monday morning.”

Users also have the option to order two pills in case they vomit after taking a pill – a not uncommon side effect of emergency contraception.

Emergency contraception contains high doses of female hormones: either levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestogen, or progestin, another type of synthetic progestogen, plus estrogen. The progestogen analogues cause changes in the mucus and lining of the cervix, making it harder for sperm to reach the uterus and harder for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus.  Estrogen, on the other hand, stops the ovaries from releasing eggs that can be fertilized by sperm.

As one might expect, the right wing press are up in arms about this development.  The Daily Mail cites Fury as High Street pharmacy sells morning-after pill online, whereas The Daily Telegraph opts for Anger over ‘morning-after pill bulk-buy offer’.  These publications are harping on the old fear that easy availability of the morning after pill will fuel promiscuity, which the current system prevents, they say, by involving an ‘uncomfortable’ interview with a pharmacist that may act as a deterrent to such behaviour.

Promiscuity surely is only a problem for society if it leads to unwanted pregnancies, whereas emergency contraception prevents this happening.  More to the point, currently a woman could walk into a pharmacy three days in a row if she wanted to create a stockpile (how much of a deterrent can a disapproving pharmacist really be?), the online ordering system just makes this process more straightforward.  I welcome Lloyd’s Pharmacy’s move as a good way of ensuring women can use emergency contraception as soon after unprotected sex as possible.

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