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Japan kicks off trial of over-the-counter morning-after pills

[Source]

Japanese health officials commenced a trial for prescription-less morning-after pills at selected pharmacies on Tuesday, with plans for a full-scale rollout to be determined after it ends in early 2024.

About the pill: The pill, levonorgestrel, is known for its brand name NorLevo. Japan's health ministry says it has an efficacy rate of 80%, working best within 72 hours after having unprotected sex, as per Kyodo News.

Customers can purchase the pill for between 7,000 yen ($47) and 9,000 yen ($61). The over-the-counter trial, headed by the Japan Pharmaceutical Association, will run until the next fiscal year in March 2024.

Where to get them: The pills are available at 145 pharmacies across the country. Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka will each have five to six participating pharmacies, while 44 other prefectures will each have two to three.

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Customers must first call and set an appointment with the pharmacy to avail the pills. The trial is eligible only for individuals 16 and above, and those aged 16 and 17 must be accompanied by a guardian or parent when making their purchase.

Why it matters: The trial, for one, is expected to help victims of sexual abuse. Morning-after pills could reduce the need to undergo abortion, which could cause more physical, mental and emotional stress to the patient.

The trial could also break the need for sexual abuse victims to get a doctor’s prescription before they can obtain an emergency contraceptive. A prescription was previously required.

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What’s next: A full-scale rollout in Japan is expected to depend on several factors, including sales data, pharmacy conditions and customer feedback. The health ministry is also looking to secure more budget to continue the trial after the next fiscal year.

How people reacted: The news has drawn mixed reactions among Japanese social media users. Some on X believe it is too expensive.

"Isn't this emergency contraceptive pill sold in stores expensive, being from 7,000 to 9,000 yen??? It used to be 7,500 yen for consultation and prescription, but I didn't like being asked why I needed it," one commented in part.

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Others were more critical of how the pills are being distributed. One said they hope the pills will be distributed “in the right way,” while another user suggested the government should set up a “proper system for purchasing and managing the intake, similar to a medication notebook.”

 

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