Morning after pill on sale over the counter


THE MORNING after pill can be made available without prescription in all pharmacies from today after the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) yesterday approved one of two brands of emergency contraceptive licensed here for use as an over-the-counter medicine.

The news comes as the Boots pharmacy chain was told by the board it was breaking the law by making the morning after pill available without prescription for the past month under a protocol drawn up by its medical director.

Boots began supplying the drug over the counter under what were called “patient group directions” in January, but the board said last night there was no provision for these in Irish legislation.

“The position of the IMB, as the regulatory authority, is that the supply of prescription-only medicines under patient group directions is unlawful,” it said. Boots said last night it was confident its interpretation of the law was correct.

It emerged yesterday that the manufacturers of NorLevo, one of two brands of morning after pill licensed by the board for use in the State, lodged an application to have its product made available over the counter last month after seeing the demand for emergency contraception when it was available without prescription in Boots.

HRA Pharma had lodged a previous application to vary the prescription-only status of the licence for its morning after pill in 2007, but withdrew it when the board sought additional information. Its application to make the product available without prescription was approved this time within weeks by the board.

HRA Pharma said NorLevo had been used by more than 55 million women in 48 countries, 30 of which had adopted an over-the-counter status for the drug.

The morning after pill must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to be effective in preventing pregnancy, but the earlier it is taken the more effective it is.

There have been many calls from the Irish Family Planning Association and other groups for the medicine to be made available over the counter in order to make it more accessible to women.

The second morning after pill licensed for use here and the one which has had 95 per cent of market share – Levonelle – is now only available on prescription, the board said, following its decision that Boots’s actions in supplying it over the counter were unlawful.

Boots had been charging €45 for the over-the-counter service, including a consultation with staff. NorLevo is now expected to be made available over the counter for about €10. Boots had supplied the drug over the counter only to women aged 18 and over.

NorLevo can now be had over the counter by females of any age. There is no age restriction in the product licence.