Health News

Knowledge of the morning-after pill lacking: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Urban-living minority girls appear to lack general knowledge about emergency contraceptive pills -- more commonly known as the “morning-after” pill, new research hints.

Morning-after pills, which are taken after intercourse, consist of hormones that prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Since they can be taken immediately after intercourse (instead of waiting until the “morning after”), some doctors prefer the term “emergency contraception.”

The emergency contraceptive pill is a safe and effective means of preventing pregnancy for up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse or when other forms of contraception, such as birth control pills or condoms, have not been effective, Dr. Cynthia J. Mollen of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania told Reuters Health.

Yet, “multiple misconceptions” about emergency contraceptive pills exist, Mollen said.

Mollen and colleagues assessed the knowledge of, and attitudes toward, emergency contraceptive pills among 30 English-speaking black girls between 15 and 19 years old who sought emergency department care.

Sixteen of the girls said they were sexually active - 5 with a history of pregnancy -- and 14 said they were not sexually active, the investigators report in the medical journal Pediatrics.

In hour-long interviews with each girl, the researchers learned that 94 percent of the sexually active girls had at least heard of the morning-after pill, Mollen said. However, 40 percent of these young women were unable to answer follow-up questions on how the pills work.

Among girls who were not sexually active, 50 percent had never heard of the morning-after pill, and just 4 girls who had heard of this form of contraception knew when to use it or how to obtain it.

Mollen’s group found only 7 girls (5 sexually active and 2 not sexually active) who knew of the Food and Drug Administration approval of non-prescription Plan B -- a brand name emergency contraception pill for women age 18 and older.

Many of the adolescents said emergency contraceptive pill users should feel embarrassed and thought healthcare providers would likely call users’ parents or caregivers. The girls’ also expressed concerns about side effects, including those not known to occur with the morning-after pill, Mollen said.

By identifying specific barriers to the use of emergency contraception in this population, Mollen notes, “we provide a framework for future interventions aimed at increasing emergency contraception pill use.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2008