Morning-after pill sold over the counter in Canada

Boxes of the contraceptive Postinor-2, known as the "morning-after pill", are seen inside a safe in a public health clinic in Santiago September 22, 2006. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

TORONTO (Reuters) - The so-called “morning after” pill Plan B has received full over-the-counter status in Canada, drug maker Paladin Labs Inc said on Thursday.

Paladin said that following a decision by the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities, an umbrella group for Canada’s provincial regulators, the emergency contraceptive will be available directly from pharmacy shelves.

Plan B, which is used after having sex to prevent unintended pregnancies, previously had behind-the-counter status, meaning that it was available from a pharmacist on request but did not require a doctor’s prescription.

The pill is 95 percent effective in preventing a pregnancy when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but does not have any impact on an pre-existing pregnancy, according to Paladin.

Canada allowed the controversial pill to be available without prescription in 2005.

In the United States, women and men 18 and older can buy Plan B without a prescription if they show proof of age at a pharmacy. Girls under 18 still need a prescription.

Supporters of the contraceptive have hailed it as a way to reduce the number of abortions, while critics have argued it could promote promiscuity or be used as a regular method of birth control.

Family-planning groups in the United States have said some women have run into difficulties getting Plan B, with some pharmacists declining to dispense it or stores refusing to carry it.

In Canada, Plan B is distributed and marketed by Paladin, while in the United States, it is sold by Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc, which owns the rights to the contraceptive.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Peter Galloway