Advantages and disadvantages of over-the-counter availability of emergency contraception.

OBJECTIVES: To compare usage patterns, accessibility and knowledge about over-the counter (OTC) emergency contraception (EC) in comparison to prescription-only EC.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Self-designed, paper-based validated questionnaires containing 26 questions were distributed among students and high school pupils in Poland (PL) - 1000 questionnaires and in Lithuania (LT) - 650. In Lithuania EC is available OTC, whereas in Poland EC is a prescription-only drug. Statistical analysis was performed using SAS software with p<0.05 considered significant.

RESULTS: 74.01% of Poles and 70.89% of Lithuanians reported a history of sexual activity. About one third of the respondents in both countries used EC at least once in a lifetime (PL: 29.01%, LT: 32.2%; p>0.05). The main reason for EC usage in both countries was a broken condom (PL: 60.63%, LT: 57.66 %; p>0.05). In case of emergency more than half of the questioned women in both countries would use EC pill. The knowledge about EC was significantly lower in Poland (PL median - 8 out of 16; LT - 10 out of 16 true/false statements; p<0.01).

CONCLUSIONS: Over-the-counter availability of EC does not cause repetitive or increased usage. Moreover, an easier access to EC improves patients' knowledge about the drug.

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