HEALTH WATCH: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
The 'morning after' pill: coming soon to a school near you?
, November 1, 2003
The potential availability of the "morning after" pill in UK schools raises warnings for Australia.The Herald Express (October 4) has reported that school nurses in South Devon, UK, will soon be able to hand out the "morning after" pill to girls over eleven years of age without consulting the girl's doctor or parents.
School governors in the area will be responsible for deciding if the "morning after" pill, Levonelle 2, will be made available on site.
Decisions regarding eligibility for the pill will rest with nurses, who will have to decide "whether the girl is intelligent enough to fully understand"
Levonelle 2 is a relatively new "morning after pill" which its distributors have claimed is more reliable and has fewer side-effects.Side effects
Despite claims of negligible side-effects, The Pharmaceutical Journal
(Vol 264 No 7082 p231) reported on possible side-effects associated with taking Levonelle 2.
These included: breast tenderness, headache, dizziness and fatigue, temporary disturbances in menstruation, bleeding, spotting and early or delayed onset of menstruation.
Nausea occurs in about 25 per cent of women and vomiting in about 5 per cent.
There are also various contra-indications for taking Levonelle 2 which include an overdue period, if the last period was abnormal in timing or character, or if pregnancy is suspected for any other reason.
Many of these symptoms (abnormal and/or irregular periods) are common in young woman, especially those who have just commenced menstruating.
In the UK, Levonelle 2 has been available over the counter to women aged sixteen and over, since January 2001.The Observer
has reported that a million courses of the "morning after pill" are sold annually in Britain.
Does Levonelle 2, and other morning after contraceptives take the "worry" out of unsafe sex? Not likely.Experimentation
It may however, open the floodgates to sexual experimentation, in a climate where sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections are rife.
With the value of hindsight, some members of the UK Royal College of Nurses expert adolescent health team have voiced concern that over-the-counter sales of the "morning after pill" result in women not having the time or privacy to discuss preventative health measures.
Hence, there is a rise in risky and unsafe sex.
It seems alarming that girls younger than sixteen may soon have access to a morning after pill, when they obviously do not understand the risks or responsibilities that accompany sexual intimacy.
Allowing Levonelle 2 to be made available to young women in the school grounds has nothing to do with sex education - it is an issue that relates to sexual maturity - something unlikely to exist in recently post-pubescent girls.Australia following suit?
Locally, the push for accessibility to over the counter "morning after pills", otherwise known as emergency contraception (EC), is following suit with other countries.
Richard Egan reported in News Weekly (
May 31, 2003)
of a submission to the National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee (NDPSC) to have Postinor-2 (Levonelle 2's Australian trading name) changed from a prescription only drug (Schedule 4) to a pharmacists only drug (Schedule 3), effectively allowing women to gain greater access to the abortifacients over the counter.
In June this year, Levonelle 2 was altered from a Schedule 4 to a Schedule 3 drug, implementing this change.
If Australia follows this growing trend of making emergency contraception available to all, in a few years Levonelle 2, and other such "morning after" pills, may be available on site in Australian schools.