By Amy Norton
NEW YORK | Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:35pm EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – More U.S. women seem to be using the “morning-after” pill now that the emergency contraceptive is available over-the-counter, a new study finds.
Researchers found that between 2006 and 2008, about twice as many women ages 15 to 44 said they had used emergency contraception, compared with four to six years earlier — when it was still restricted to prescription-only.
The emergency contraceptive Plan B has been available in the U.S. since 1999. The pills, which contain the hormone progestin, cut the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg.
However, the contraceptive must be taken within 72 hours of having sex — and the sooner, the better. After the first 12 hours the risk of pregnancy increases by 50 percent.
So in 2006, after years of political controversy, the U.S. approved Plan B for “behind-the-counter” sales to adults — meaning they could get it from a pharmacy without waiting for a prescription. The age restriction was later lowered to 17 in 2009.
In the new study, researchers looked at data from a periodic government survey to see how national rates of emergency-contraception use may be changing.
They found that of more than 6,300 sexually active U.S. women surveyed between 2006 and 2008, nearly 10 percent said they had ever used emergency contraception.