The State Directorate of Drugs Control has recently submitted a proposal to the Drug Consultative Committee to allow emergency contraceptive pills to be sold over the counter without a prescription.
“The formulation, Levonorgestrol, 0.75/1.5 mg tablet, is currently under the Schedule H list of drugs, which requires a prescription. We have asked for it to be included under Schedule K so that it can be sold as an over the counter product,” said S. Abdul Khader, director of drugs control. The proposal was submitted about a month ago and the directorate is awaiting a response, he said.
In September, film-maker activist Vaishnavi Sundar in association with Rachita Taneja of Jhatkaa, a campaigning organisation, started an online petition to make the pills available in Tamil Nadu. The petition has so far garnered over 2,800 signatures.
“The momentum began last year,” said Ms. Sundar, when she and a friend went around Chennai looking for the emergency pill, but could not find it in a single store. “At that point, I shared my experience with several women friends and many said they had faced the same experience and had to try and buy the pill in secret or have someone bring it in from another city. We thought this went against women’s reproductive rights, and even though officials say there is no ban on the pill, it has not been available at least for the last decade in Tamil Nadu,” she said.
Ms. Sundar said that while the submission of the proposal was a small step, she was very happy about it and would continue to follow up on the issue.
“The emergency pill, also known as the ‘morning after’ pill is a progesterone,” explained Jaishree Gajaraj, senior gynaecologist based in the city. “For pregnancy to occur, the endometrial lining has to be of a certain thickness. The pill makes the lining hostile, but it has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, otherwise it does not work,” she said.
Levonorgestrol, she said, was recommended by the World Health Organisation as the earlier versions of the pill, which used combinations of oestrogen and progesterone, had more side effects.
However, Dr. Jaishree cautioned that the pill should be used only in cases of an emergency and not as a substitute for regular contraception.
“We find some couples using it three or four times per menstrual cycle and this is not healthy at all — it could cause a messing up of hormones. Ideally it should not be used more than two or three times in your lifetime,” she said.