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Pattern of use of emergency oral contraception among Portuguese women

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Objective This study describes the purchasers’ profile and characterizes the pattern of use of emergency oral contraception among pharmacy users. Setting The study was carried out in 455 Portuguese pharmacies. Method A cross-sectional study was undertaken in which pharmacists selected the first six purchasers of emergency oral contraception between May and June of 2006. Only user-purchasers were eligible to answer the questions about emergency oral contraception use. Participants completed a questionnaire on sociodemographic data and variables concerning contraceptive methods (including the emergency oral contraceptive acquired, the source of information about the availability of this emergency contraceptive method, prior use of emergency oral contraception, the frequency of use in the current cycle, the frequency of use in the preceding year, the time elapsed between unprotected sexual intercourse and the acquisition of emergency oral contraception, the reason for use and the regular method of contraception used). Although these drugs are available outside pharmacies—in some shops and supermarkets—their pattern of use was only assessed among pharmacy users. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize data. Main outcome measure Prevalence of correct use, which was defined as the proportion of user-purchasers who acquired emergency oral contraception up to 72 h after unprotected sexual intercourse and had never used it in the current cycle. Results The sample comprised 1466 user-purchasers (72.6%) and 552 purchasers for another person’s use (27.4%). Levonorgestrel-only contraceptives represented 96.1% of the emergency oral contraception acquired. User-purchasers aged between 18 and 30 represented 65.2% and 42.3% had attended secondary school. The majority of them (79.5%) were using a regular method of contraception and 62.6% were first-time users of emergency oral contraception. In 59.0% of the situations the reason for use was failure of the contraceptive used. Conclusion Emergency oral contraception was used correctly by 96.9% of user-purchasers.

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The authors are grateful to all community pharmacists who voluntarily collected data for this study. Special thanks to Dr. Patricia Ferreira.


This project was developed and implemented by CEFAR (Center for Health Evaluation & Research), a Contract Research Organization of the Portuguese National Association of Pharmacies (ANF) and co-financed by ANF and Tecnifar.

Conflicts of interest statement

Tecnifar markets Norlevo® (levonorgestrel) for the Portuguese pharmaceutical market. Dr Telma Costa receives support from Tecnifar. Dr José Guerreiro and Dr Ana Miranda receive support from ANF. Dr Ermelindo Fontes received grants from ANF.

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Correspondence to E. Fontes.

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Fontes, E., Guerreiro, J., Costa, T. et al. Pattern of use of emergency oral contraception among Portuguese women. Pharm World Sci 32, 496–502 (2010).

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