The Debate About Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraceptive Pills


  • Chih-Wen Shi MD, MSHS,

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    • Dr. Shi is a board-certified family physician and Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Her research focuses on health service aspects of over-the-counter medications.

  • Theodore G. Ganiats MD

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    • Dr. Ganiats is Professor and Interim Chair at the UCSD Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Executive Director of the UCSD Health Outcomes Assessment Program, and Codirector of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety.

Chih-Wen Shi, MD, MSHS, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, M/C-0807, La Jolla, CA 92093. E-mail:


Many prescription drugs have been converted to over-the-counter (OTC) status in recent years. Another drug that has been proposed for OTC status is a levonorgestrel-only emergency contraceptive pill. The debate surrounding OTC access to emergency contraceptive pills echoes issues encountered in previous reclassification processes and raises new challenges. This article discusses the emergency contraceptive pill, the evolution of its access options, and the context and implications of changing its status from a prescription to an OTC medication.