Canada Eyes OTC Sale of 'Morning-After Pill'

Canada's national pharmacy regulation body is recommending that "morning-after" contraceptive pills be sold over the counter.

The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities decided Wednesday to support sales of the drug known as Plan B from drugstore shelves instead of from behind the counter. The body advises Canada's provincial regulatory authorities, which will have final say in their own regions.

Under current rules, women who want to buy Plan B have to ask pharmacy staff for the drug, a condition critics say may discourage some women from using it to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The system is the same in the United States. American women don't need a prescription to buy the drug, but they must ask a pharmacist for it and show a photo ID. Minors still require a prescription.

A Plan B pill contains a high dose of a drug found in many regular birth-control pills and can dramatically lower the chance of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sex. Critics consider it tantamount to abortion, but it differs from the abortion pill RU-486 and has no effect on women who already are pregnant.

Vyta Senikas, associate vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, said Thursday that NAPRA decided to recommend making it easier for women to buy Plan B because the drug had been proven safe.

"But that doesn't mean we let go of the aspect of counseling. Patients have to be made aware of using the drug properly by women discussing it with a pharmacist," she said.

Efforts to move Plan B to over-the-counter sale is a contentious issue in Canada. Supporters say it would reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions; opponents say it would fuel teenage promiscuity by easy accessibility.

If Canada's provinces and territories agree with NAPRA's recommendation, Canada will join Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and India in selling Plan B as an over-the-counter product.