NZ pill downschedule good news for women, pharmacy

Women in New Zealand will now be able to buy some oral contraceptives over the counter

The Medicines Classification Committee recommendation follows an application by Green Cross Health and Natalie Gauld Ltd to have the contraceptives downscheduled from prescription to “restricted” medicines.

Medsafe Group Manager Chris James says this will mean pharmacists can sell up to six months’ supply of oral contraceptives to women who meet certain conditions.

“To be eligible, a woman must have been prescribed a similar formulation within the last three years and not have developed risk factors which would preclude continued use without adequate medical supervision,” he says.

“Very young women, under 16, are not eligible nor are first-time users of oral contraceptives. And women will be encouraged to allow pharmacists to notify their GP that they are getting the oral contraceptive across the pharmacy counter.”

Dr Natalie Gauld, a New Zealand pharmacist who specialises in drug reclassification and has written on the subject for AJP, says the move is good news for New Zealand women and for pharmacy.

“Women want this empowerment and convenience,” she told the AJP. “It will provide reassurance of the safety of the method, and hopefully will prevent unwanted pregnancies owing to the accessibility. 

“There has long been a call to take oral contraceptives off prescription, including from The Lancet, and research shows that pharmacists work well within the model of availability we have used in New Zealand for the emergency contraceptive, vaccinations, trimethoprim and sildenafil. 

“Pharmacists would undergo additional training through the Pharmaceutical Society, and would use a screening tool to ensure safe supply and keeping a record. An information sheet specific to pharmacist supply would be given to patients.

“The pharmacist would inform the doctor with patient permission. Up to six months supply can be given at any time and the woman needs to have been prescribed the medicine in the last three years. 

“This is the down-scheduling I have wanted to see for over a decade, so it is extremely satisfying to see it go through.”

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