Prescription rule stays in effect for morning-after pill

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Prescription rule stays in effect for morning-after pill

Two months after the controversial announcement that prescription morning-after pills will be reclassified as over-the-counter drugs, the food and drug authority has repealed the decision and postponed reevaluation for another three years.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korean Food & Drug Administration (KFDA) announced yesterday the results of its review as well as the reclassification of 504 types of medicine sold in Korea, which will be implemented March 1 next year.

But the status quo remains for birth control and morning-after pills, officials said, as the KFDA’s Central Pharmaceutical Affairs Council decided after a meeting yesterday to postpone the reclassification of birth control and morning-after pills for three years.

Birth control pills are over-the-counter drugs that don’t require a doctor’s prescription.

However, in early June, the KFDA announced that morning-after, or emergency contraceptive, pills that are sold by prescription only would be available over the counter starting from the beginning of next year.

The administration further announced that it was considering making non-emergency oral contraceptive pills available only by prescription.

“The council determined that scientifically it is valid to consider birth control pills and prescription medicine and morning-after pills as pharmaceutical,” said KFDA pharmaceutical policy official, Cho Ki-won, “but have come to the conclusion that there has to be careful consideration when overturning a classification system that has been retained for decades.”

The KDFA stated that they will “carefully monitor” the side effects of the morning-after pills in the meantime and also better educate the public on the effects and uses of birth control.

In response to concerns that receiving a prescription for morning-after pills, which prevent a woman from becoming pregnant if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, will take too long or be cumbersome, officials said that nighttime clinics, emergency rooms and hospitals will be able to prescribe the pills between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on holidays.

Government officials, doctors, experts, women’s rights activists, religious groups and other civic organizations lent their voices over the past two months to the debate, especially raising concerns regarding the safety of the pill.

The Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology expressed yesterday that while it was understandable that people hold misgivings about morning-after pills, which are still relatively new to the Korean market, it is “rather regrettable that birth control pills remain over-the-counter same as before,” raising concerns about public health and safety.

Further concerns were raised over birth control pills, which civic organizations and doctors pointed out had uses other than to prevent pregnancy, including helping women to regulate their menstruation cycles.

The KFDA further stated that some 200 prescription medicines have been reclassified as over-the-counter, including Zantac, used to treat heartburn, and will be available at pharmacies.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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