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Emergency contraceptives now more available

“Morning-after” pill a last resort for women



Women in Nunavut have new levels of access to emergency contraceptives, commonly known as the “morning after” pill.

If taken within 72 hours after sex, emergency contraceptives can cut the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 per cent.

Health Canada announced that women across the country would be able to get emergency contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription in the spring of 2004. The drugs rolled out slowly across Canada as pharmacists received special training so they could dispense the pill safely.

In Nunavut, beneficiaries can get emergency contraceptives for free from their community nurse. Others can buy “Plan B,” a brand name morning-after pill, from the pharmacy for $33.12.

Emergency contraceptives are used mainly following sexual assaults, or in cases where someone taking regular birth controls has missed a pill and fears she may be at risk of pregnancy.

“This is not really a method of birth control,” said Brooke Fulmer, pharmacist at the Baffin Regional Hospital.

The pills offer women a “last chance” to avoid pregnancy, but they do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Curtis Jones, a pharmacist at Northmart in Iqaluit, agrees. He’s been dispensing emergency contraceptives without a prescription since this spring.

Relying on emergency contraceptives for birth control is “not a good idea,” Jones said.

“If you’re having unprotected sex and then using Plan B, the chances of your getting pregnant are much greater than if you’re on daily birth control.”

The inconvenience of going to the pharmacy every time you have sex is also a turn-off.

“Nobody wants their pharmacist to know that much about them.”

Emergency contraceptives are also quite unpleasant to take.

Women must take two pills: one as soon as possible following intercourse, and the next 12 hours later.

This can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps, headaches and a tired feeling. Some pharmacists recommend taking Gravol or another anti-nausea medication half an hour before taking the pill.

Emergency contraceptives are not a form of abortion. Rather, they use the same drugs used in birth control pills to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg to form a baby.

On average, if 100 women had unprotected intercourse during the second or third week of their menstrual cycle, 8 would become pregnant. Emergency contraceptives reduce that number to 1 in 100.

Regular birth control is widely available around Nunavut. Nunavummiut can get free birth control pills, condoms, IUDs and other methods of birth control from community health centers, paid for by Health Canada’s non-insured health benefits program for Inuit and First Nations peoples.

Some Nunavummiut may not notice a dramatic change in the availability in emergency contraceptives.

In the past, Nunavummiut could request emergency contraception from community nurses, who would dispense a similar drug or drug cocktail having the same effect as Plan B, after consulting a doctor.

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