Taking the fright out of the night before

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 November, 2004, 12:00am

Emergency contraceptive may be easier to get after study finds it is not abused

Hong Kong is taking the first step towards making morning-after pills more widely available, after a study showed women can be relied on not to abuse the emergency contraceptives if they are given them in advance.

From next year, the Family Planning Association planned to provide the pills in a pilot programme in which women would be sold the drugs to take home to use when they were needed, instead of going to an association clinic every time, said Sue Lo, a senior doctor with the association.

The move follows a study published in last month's issue of British journal Human Reproduction, which found that although women provided with three courses of the drug used it a little more, they were not abusing it.

The pills are now available in Hong Kong only on prescription, forcing women to wait for a clinic to open before they can take the drug, losing much-needed time if they want to avoid a pregnancy.

The pill is effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It works by stopping the release of an egg, preventing fertilisation or stopping a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus.

The one-year study found that 30 per cent of 515 women provided with the medicine to take home took it at least once during the 12 months, compared with 13 per cent of 515 women who had to go to a clinic when they needed it, said Dr Lo, lead author of the study.

Of those who used the morning-after pill, 57 per cent used it once, 22 per cent twice and 13 per cent three times in one year.

About 47 per cent of women under 26 took the pill at least once, compared with 23 per cent of older women.

The study was conducted by the Family Planning Association, the University of Hong Kong and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The study is important because it used a new progestogen pill, discovered by Ho Pak-cheung, a professor of obstetrics at HKU. It was registered in Hong Kong in 2002.

In a World Health Organisation trial it proved to be more effective than the traditional oestrogen-progestogen pills and also had fewer side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

A similar study conducted in 1998 in Scotland using the old pills also showed women would not abuse emergency contraceptives.

Dr Lo said the latest findings indicated that women in Hong Kong used morning-after pills as a back-up to normal contraceptive methods.

But she did not think the city was ready for the emergency pills to be sold over the counter.

'Over-the-counter status can only be implemented if general knowledge about emergency contraception is high and providers are confident in talking to patients about it,' she said.

At the Family Planning Association, the emergency contraceptive will cost $50 a dose, while a month's supply of birth-control pills costs between $10 and $60.

Last year, 2 per cent of the 211,328 attendances at the association's clinics were for emergency pills.