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Morning After Pill: What are the Options?

There are two “morning after” contraceptive pills currently available in the United Kingdom, known as Levonelle, and a newer product called ellaOne. The latter generated some controversy within the UK recently, when it was given a license that made it available to girls under the age of 16. The pill has actually been available in the country from pharmacies since the 1st of April last year, following it receiving European approval. In both cases, it is recommended to take the pills as soon as possible following intercourse, although Levonelle can be effective up to three days after, and ellaOne up to five days later.

Pills for the under 16

16 is the age of consent in the United Kingdom. Those under 16 who want to have access to a morning after pill would need to have a prescription to get Levonelle, at least officially. However, some pharmacists can offer girls under 16 the option of taking the drug without a prescription, thanks to a free NHS scheme. ellaOne is also available to those under 16, following a recommendation from the European Medicines Agency; in November 2016, they stated that all females of child bearing age should be able to get access to the drug via pharmacists, without the need for a prescription.

Cost

Over the counter, ellaOne is priced at around £35, while Levonelle is a little bit cheaper at just £25. They are both available from various outlets, including most high street pharmacists and this Online Clinic. Free emergency contraception is also available from the NHS at a variety of places, including a number of GPs’ surgeries, and the great majority of NHS walk-in centres.

What to expect from a pharmacist

Women and girls are often uncertain about what to expect if they go to a pharmacist in order to obtain a morning after pill. A private chat with the pharmacist will be necessary, as they need to ascertain your reason for going to them, what has taken place, and if there is a real need for the morning after pill. Other options beside the morning after pill will also be offered, and they will take the time to explain the nature of the medication, as well as the risk from any potential side effects.

Pharmacists will keep information confidential and will not disclose personal details, unless there is a belief that you are somehow at risk, perhaps of sexual abuse. Sexual health and longer term contraception options are also likely to be brought up in discussion by the pharmacist. Morning after pills can be collected from pharmacies on the same day as the order is placed. Next day delivery is obviously only available and recommended when an order is placed for peace of mind over potential use in the future, rather than an immediate need. The rate of teen pregnancies is on the decline in the United Kingdom, yet is still among the highest within Europe as a whole, with 4648 girls aged below 16 becoming pregnant in the UK in 2016.

How it works

Levonelle and ellaOne both work in the same way, by delaying or preventing ovulation. Progesterone is a hormone that affects the body’s ovulation ability. Levonorgestrel, a synthetic type of progesterone, is used in Levonelle, while ellaOne makes use of a substance known as ulipristal acetate. This stops the normal functioning of progesterone in the body, resulting in a delay of the egg being released from the ovary.

Guidelines for use

Although it is acceptable for women to take Levonelle multiple times during their menstrual cycle, it is not advisable to take ellaOne more than once during that time. The pill is intended for one-off use, rather than regular consumption. Normal contraception will not be immediately effective after taking the morning after pill, and, while you should commence taking the regular pill again as soon as possible, other precautions should be followed for a while.

IUD

Levonelle and ellaOne are not the only forms of morning after contraception available. An IUD is an alternative type of emergency contraception, and is actually even more effective than the morning after pill. A family planning clinic, or your GP, can fit an IUD up to five days following sexual intercourse.