Emergency contraceptive to stay behind counter in Quebec

Canadian women might soon be able to buy the emergency contraceptive drug known as Plan B straight off the drugstore shelf rather than having to ask for it at the pharmacy counter — everywhere except in Quebec.

Other provinces expected to adopt recommendation to free up access to the drug

Canadian women might soon be able to buy the emergency contraceptive drug known as Plan B straight off the drugstore shelf rather than having to ask for it at the pharmacy counter — everywhere except in Quebec.

The drug, commonly sold under the brand name Plan B, is expected to soon be as easy to access as Aspirin or nutritional supplements after the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) accepted a recommendation this week to change how the contraceptive is sold.

The proposal must still be approved by the pharmacy regulatory authorities of each province and territory, but if adopted, it will make the drug available off the shelf instead of behind the pharmacy counter.

In Quebec, however, the recommendation will not be considered at all since the province is not a member of NAPRA.

That means women in Quebec will still have to request the drug from a pharmacist, consult about their need for it and answer questions about their sexual and intimate history before the drug is dispensed.

Most pharmacists in the province support women's right to use this kind of contraceptive and "never oppose that access should be as large as possible," said Jean-Yves Julien, a pharmacist in Quebec City.

But the drug is potent, and it's wise for patients to have some kind of consultation before taking it, said Julien, the former president of Quebec's Order of Pharmacists.

Plan B contains the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, which is present in differing doses in other contraceptive pills as well as in some intrauterine devices.

Women in Quebec will have to ask pharmacy staff for the medication, which critics say may deter some people from requesting it.

Julien said pharmacists try to deal with clients as objectively as possible. "Everyone makes judgments," he told CBC News.

"It's not specific to pharmacists. I don't accept that pharmacists are more judgmental than journalists, doctors or politicians."

Plan B prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus but does not terminate pregnancies the way medications such as RU-486 do.

It's most effective if used within three days of unprotected sex.

Montreal-based Paladin Labs Inc. sells Plan B in Canada.

Given that individual provinces must still review and implement NAPRA's recommendation, it may be a while before Plan B is widely available in other provinces.

Canada will become the fifth country to allow levonorgestrel to be sold as an over-the-counter product.

Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and India already allow its sale.