Pharmacies make it hard for women to pop the pill, say women’s groups

The Yukon has the highest abortion rate per capita in all of Canada. In 2006, the territory had 39.5 abortions for every 100 live births.

The Yukon has the highest abortion rate per capita in all of Canada.

In 2006, the territory had 39.5 abortions for every 100 live births.

Compare that to the national average of 25.7 abortions per 100 births, according to the latest Statistics Canada data on abortion.

And yet, finding emergency contraceptives – often referred to as the morning-after pill – on store shelves is more difficult than it should be, argue Yukon women’s groups.

“I think abortion is a legitimate form of birth control, but, that being said, I think a lot of women really would prefer earlier interventions and better access,” said Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre co-ordinator Julianna Scramstad.

More Whitehorse pharmacies should stock Plan B, a commercial brand of emergency contraceptive, on their shelves rather than behind the pharmacy counter, said Scramstad.

There’s no reason four of the five pharmacies in Whitehorse carry Plan B behind the counter, she said.

A ruling in 2008 by the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities changed Plan B from a schedule II to a schedule III drug.

This meant customers could walk into a store and grab Plan B without having to first consult with a pharmacist, often considered a barrier for some women.

Yukon Status of Women representative Linnea Rudachyk walked into each of the pharmacies in town to see which drugstores stocked the product on their shelves.

At the Shoppers Drug Mart in Qwanlin Mall, Rudachyk could see the box behind the counter.

So she asked one of the pharmacists why Plan B wasn’t on the shelf.

“(The pharmacist) didn’t really know how to respond,” said Rudachyk.

It was a similar story at the Shoppers Drug Mart on Main Street, the Superstore Pharmacy and the Walmart Pharmacy.

Currently, all of these pharmacies stock the product behind the counter.

“It was discouraging and made me concerned for other women in the community who would benefit from having the option to take it off the shelf and not discuss anything with a pharmacist,” said Rudachyk.

Some women don’t want to explain why they need the pill or feel like they’re being lectured to, she said.

Theft was the most common explanation Scramstad was given when she started questioning local pharmacists about Plan B.

One pharmacist at the Shoppers Drug Mart at Qwanlin told Scramstad that they liked giving the spiel about Plan B to customers.

It’s not necessary considering the box Plan B comes in clearly explains how and who should take the pill, said Scramstad.

Scramstad is concerned pharmacies aren’t making the morning-after pill as available as they could be under the National Association of Pharmacy Regulations.

Their regulations state schedule III drugs “are to be sold from the self-selection area of the pharmacy.”

Although, the rules do stipulate that control of the drug can be increased by discretion of the pharmacist.

There is no health-related harm that would come from a woman taking the pill who doesn’t need it, said Canadian Federation of Sexual Health director Jolanta Scott-Parker.

She’s heard of several places in Canada where pharmacists stow the morning-after pill behind the counter.

“It should be available without any kind of barrier, either time-wise or otherwise,” said Scott-Parker.

“That’s why the schedule of the drug was changed – so that it would be available to women.”

The Medicine Chest Pharmacy is the only local drugstore that freely offers Plan B to women on their store shelves.

“We want to keep the product as accessible as possible,” said pharmacy manager Jeff Spiers.

The drugstore did have to move the large boxes of Plan B from the far end of the store near the pharmacist when theft became an issue, however.

Although he’s not sure who is stealing the product, he can see why teenage girls might be afraid to ask for it and swipe it.

There was a conversation about taking the product off the shelf altogether, said Spiers.

But the pharmacists decided they wanted to keep the product accessible.

“It’s the cost of doing business,” said Spiers.

Plan B ranges in price from $25 to $40 in pharmacies around the territory.

If a customer mentions they can’t afford the $27 price tag, at the Medicine Chest, Spiers will direct them to the Communicable Centre for Disease Control on Hospital Road.

It offers Plan B to women free of charge.

Scramstad and Rudachyk only recently learned the territory offers free emergency contraceptives at the centre and at some community health centres around the Yukon.

It’s not well advertised, said Rudachyk.

“As a women’s centre, we should know this information so that we can pass it on to others.”

Calls to communications departments at Shoppers Drug Mart, Superstore and Walmart were all unreturned by press time.