Background: Pharmacies are important sites for access to health information and medications in Mexico. Most workers are not trained in health issues and may provide inaccurate information to consumers. Misoprostol is used by women throughout Mexico for early abortion and often is purchased from pharmacies. This study aims to understand the practices of pharmacy workers when asked for advice about and medications for abortion, in particular misoprostol.
Study design: A random sample of pharmacies in both urban and rural areas of one state of Mexico included both chain and independent pharmacies (n=169). Two mystery clients (MCs) visited the pharmacies, requesting medication for "bringing down the period" and then asking for misoprostol. MCs recorded information about the interactions following each visit in standardized formats. Bivariate comparisons were made between spontaneous and prompted discussions of misoprostol. Associations were considered statistically significant at alpha<.05.
Results: Ninety percent of pharmacy workers attending to the MCs discussed misoprostol as an abortifacient, either spontaneously or after being prompted by the MCs. Misoprostol was for sale in most (61%) of these pharmacies. The majority of pharmacy workers (75%) did not request a prescription. Over 75% of all pharmacy workers provided the MCs referral to trained medical providers with whom they could seek a follow-up visit. Sixteen percent of pharmacy workers suggested a regimen consistent with evidence and recommendations for using misoprostol for early abortion. Regimens that were underdosages were common, and few workers recommended a potentially harmful overdosage. Instructions about side effects and risks were rare. The price of misoprostol ranged from 900 to 1800 pesos (US$83-167) for a bottle of 28 tablets (200 mcg each) or US$4.07 per tablet, on average.
Conclusions: Pharmacy workers in both urban and rural areas of Mexico are increasingly becoming aware of misoprostol as an effective abortifacient and are willing to provide the information to consumers. However, their information is limited and often inaccurate. Strategies need to be developed so that they receive timely and correct information, consistent with evidence-based recommendations. The legal context of abortion in Mexico (with restrictions in every state, except Mexico City), the restricted registration of misoprostol as a therapeutic agent only for gastric ulcers and the fact that the majority of pharmacy workers are not considered to be health workers are among the most important barriers to advances in training pharmacy workers in the correct application of misoprostol.