Girls of 12 Are Sold Morning-After Pill; DAILY MAIL INVESTIGATION

Daily Mail (London), August 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Girls of 12 Are Sold Morning-After Pill; DAILY MAIL INVESTIGATION


Byline: ANNE SHOOTER;BEEZY MARSH

GIRLS as young as 12 can easily buy the morning-after pill, a shocking Daily Mail investigation has found.

High Street pharmacists around the country sold the powerful drug to a number of underage girls.

Some were not even asked if they were 16.

Others had to answer only a few cursory questions.

Yet strict laws are meant to prevent girls under 16 from buying the pill over the counter.

Official guidelines say that if pharmacists think customers are under 16 they must direct them to a GP or family planning clinic for a prescription and counselling.

But in one of our tests a girl of 12, barely 5ft tall, was easily able to purchase the drug, called Levonelle, after handing over [pounds sterling]24 in a branch of Boots.

If such a lax attitude to the law is widespread, it means youngsters can begin sexual activity without their parents' knowledge.

The powerful pill, which prevents a pregnancy after unprotected sex, contains six times the dose of hormones found in the regular contraceptive pill.

Its manufacturers, Schering, insist it does not pose health risks to young girls, but campaigners are concerned about the potential effects on their developing bodies.

The company said it was concerned at the results of the Mail inquiry.

A spokesman said: 'It is worrying that girls under 16 are obtaining emergency contraceptives from a pharmacist in this way and we would definitely not support that.

'It is not like taking aspirin. It is not that it is dangerous - there are no side-effects and it is safe for them physically. But they need support because there is obviously a psychological aspect to taking it, and they should be getting advice on long-term contraception.' As well as the health aspects, there are fears that the widespread availability of the morning-after pill is encouraging young people to have unprotected sex. That puts them at risk from sexually-transmitted diseases which can wreck their fertility. There is also concern that underage girls could come under increased pressure to have sex if it is thought they can easily obtain the emergency pill. Young girls could be tempted to use it repeatedly.

In the Mail investigation, girls of 13 and 14 went to branches of both Boots and Superdrug as well as independent chemists.

Norman Wells of Family and Youth Concern said he was deeply concerned about the ease with which underage girls could buy the pill.

He said: 'Yet again parents are being sidelined when they are the primary protectors of their children. The fact that girls under 16 can be given the morning-after pill without their knowledge is undermining their important role in their children's lives.' Levonelle works by changing hormone levels within the body to prevent an embryo implanting in the womb.

Schering was told last year by the Government's Chief Medical Officer to put a warning on its packaging about the risks of suffering an ectopic pregnancy after taking the pill.

The condition - in which an embryo implants outside the womb - can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding.

Last night a spokesman for Boots said: ''We would never knowingly supply emergency contraception to a customer we believed to be under 16. If this was the case then please accept our apologies as this should not have happened.'

A spokesman for Superdrug said: 'On this occasion it would appear that the pharmacist did ask the age of the patient (she said she was 16), then asked her to fill out a form.

'A tick has been entered into the "I am 16 years of age" section. …

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