'Morning-after pill' may soon require prescriptions

Alaska medical board seeks comments on proposed regulation

Posted: Thursday, July 07, 2005

A new regulation proposed by the Alaska State Medical Board would make it more difficult for women to buy emergency contraception, or the "morning-after pill."

The rewritten regulation would require customers to have annual physical exams and a prescription from a doctor before a pharmacist is allowed to give certain medication.

For the morning-after pills, currently women do not need prescriptions, but instead can purchase them after completing an interview with a certified pharmacist. That takes about 10 to 20 minutes.

"We don't hand out medication," said Scott Watts, owner of Ron's Apothecary Shoppe. "They have to fall into the right criteria."

So far, Watts' store is the only Juneau pharmacy that sells the emergency contraception, but Watts said other locations are interested.

The Division of Occupational Licensing within the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, has opened a comment period on this proposed regulation through Monday.

The Juneau Pro Choice Coalition is against the regulation, saying that if a woman needs the pills in an emergency situation - if she is raped or a condom breaks - but does not have a prescription, she would have to wait one or two weeks to schedule an appointment for a checkup.

The morning-after pill supposedly works up to 120 hours after sex.

"But the sooner one takes it, the more effective it is," said Cassondra Johnson, Juneau Pro Choice Coalition member.

Johnson also believes parents would be reluctant to pay for daughters' physical exams that would be required for the medication, and it's an extra expense for all women. Exams are around $200, she said.

The current system is called a collaborative practice agreement, in which a local doctor and a pharmacist agree on the criteria that a customer should reach.

The new regulation would require more from the physician who should examine the women and write prescriptions.

Efforts to reach the Alaska State Medical Board's administrator by press time were unsuccessful.

What could change

Current regulation:

• A physician and trained pharmacist set criteria for emergency contraception that customers should meet through an interview.

• Women do not need a prescription.

New regulation:

• A prescription would be required for emergency contraception, which should be obtained annually from a doctor who conducts a physical exam.

Johnson said pharmacists are not likely to get cooperative agreements with several doctors, but maybe only one. That would not give women a choice of who their physician would be.

The regulation is good news to local anti-abortion supporters, such as Sidney Heidersdorf, vice president of the Juneau-based Alaskans for Life.

"People who use (the pill) like to describe it as a contraceptive," Heidersdorf said. "We say, 'No. It's much more than that.'"

Anti-abortion activists strongly oppose any method used after a sperm is joined with the ovum, the point when they believe life begins, Heidersdorf said.

The morning-after pill is a drug that triggers hormonal changes similar to birth control pills but in stronger doses.

It has side effects similar to those of birth control pills, which include nausea, lower abdominal pain and menstrual changes.

The morning-after pill is not the same drug as the RU-486, also known as the so-called "abortion pill," which is taken later during pregnancy.

Alaska is one of eight states that sells emergency contraception. Ten other states are considering laws that will allow their pharmacists to sell the pill behind the counter.

The morning-after pill retails in Alaska for about $40 per dose.

The Alaska State Medical Board is made of gubernatorial appointees with the authority to write regulations into law.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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