New Findings on Mifepristone’s Use As Emergency Contraceptive

Mifepristone has long been regarded as a safe and effective form of early abortion, and has also been proven effective for use as an emergency contraceptive when taken within three days of an unprotected sexual encounter. Now, a World Health Organization study reveals that the drug remains effective even 5 days after unprotected sex. Dr. Helena von Hertzen and colleagues studied 1,717 women who took mifepristone within 5 days of unprotected sex.

Women were given varying doses of mifepristone that ranged from 10 to 600 milligrams. Researchers found that mifepristone effectively prevented pregnancy in about 1.2% of the women, regardless of the mifepristone dosage or the number of days that had passed since unprotected sex. Given that lower doses of mifepristone are less disruptive to a woman’s menstrual cycle, researchers concluded “lowering the mifepristone dose from 600 mg to 10mg has important advantages without significantly compromising effectiveness.”

Mifepristone is widely available in Sweden, Great Britain and France, but has not yet been approved for use in the U.S. However, this may change soon. New York-based pharmaceutical company The Danco Group announced last week that it is now licensed to manufacture and sell the drug in the U.S. Company spokesperson Heather O’Neill stated, “We’re confident that we expect to make it available by the end of this year.”

In a related story, Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) reported that only 3 of 100 New York pharmacists gave thorough and accurate information about emergency contraception.

PPNYC volunteers called 20 pharmacies in each of New York City’s 5 boroughs and found that the overwhelming majority either gave out wrong or misleading information about emergency contraception or knew nothing about it. Only three of the 100 pharmacists told callers that ordinary birth-control pills in higher dosages can prevent pregnancy in about 75% of women when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Public health experts believe that the U.S.’ rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortions could be cut in half if doctors informed their patients about the availability of emergency contraception.


Reuters and UPI - February 26, 1999

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