Record spike in emergency morning after pill sales in the US expected after New Year celebrations this year

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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The number of morning after pills sold in the week after New Year’s Eve is expected to skyrocket by tens of thousands, a study has found.

Researchers in Texas analyzed data on sales of the drugs in pharmacies, grocery stores and military outlets from 2016 to 2022 to uncover the trend.

They found 41,000 more morning after pills, which contain the hormone levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy, were sold in the period compared to on average, alongside smaller increases after Valentine’s Day, Independence Day and St Patrick’s day.

Scientists suggested this was because people are more likely to have sex without using a form of birth control over the New Year period, which could be attributable to an increase in alcohol consumption. 

They called their data a ‘warning sign’ and said there may be an ‘unmet need’ in states where birth control access and reproductive rights are stricter.  

Additionally, it is possible tighter abortion restrictions in some states may help spur record sales of the drug next year — as people reach for it to prevent pregnancy.

For the study, researchers tracked sales of the morning after pill across the US

The above graph shows the number of morning after pills sold per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Data is shown as the week after New Year's Eve (purple dot) and the average (yellow dot). It is also split by year

The above graph shows the number of morning after pills sold per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Data is shown as the week after New Year’s Eve (purple dot) and the average (yellow dot). It is also split by year

The morning after pill works by stopping or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary to avoid it being fertilized by sperm, which prevents pregnancy.

Sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to five days after sexual intercourse, studies show.

The medication is most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse.

Taken within this time frame, it reduces the chance of a pregnancy by 75 percent. 

The drug is available over the counter without a prescription and is swallowed as a pill with water.

For their paper, published in the BMJ, researchers looked at sales data compiled by Circana Inc — which tracks sales across the US for 7,000 brands.

The data was split by week with researchers then comparing data for the week after New Year’s Eve to weeks across the year.

To calculate the rate of use, sales figures were compared to the size of the female population aged 15 to 44 years old.

It showed sales of the drug rose by 0.63 units per 1,000 women compared to normal over the week after New Year’s — which is a 10 percent increase.

The second biggest increase was detected in the week after Valentine’s Day — where sales rose by 0.31 per 1,000 — or five percent compared to normal.

Independence Day saw the third biggest increase, up by 0.2 per 1,000, and St Patrick’s Day came fourth, with a rise of 0.14 per 1,000.

The researchers said that as many US states had increased restrictions on abortion their data was ‘indicative of unmet contraceptive need that calls for further attention’.

‘More than ever, emergency contraception is a critically important option for people in the US, particularly those living in regions with bans or severe restrictions on abortion,’ they wrote in the paper.

The above shows sales of abortion pills along per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years across the US and highlights sales during celebrations throughout the year

The above shows sales of abortion pills along per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years across the US and highlights sales during celebrations throughout the year

‘Future work will explore how other dynamics at play in the US context, including state abortion restrictions, affect emergency contraception purchasing behavior and imply potential public health interventions to provide contraceptive care to those who need it the most.’

Fourteen states have so far banned abortion outright, while another seven have imposed restrictions on the procedure.

Three states — Iowa, Montana and Wyoming — have had their abortion bans blocked by judges.

Republican states are leading the charge on bans on abortion, but polls suggest that they are repeatedly misreading the public mood.

Eighty-five percent of Americans say abortion should be legal, according to major pollster Gallup, while only 13 percent say it should be illegal.

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