Background: Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are an underutilized means to reduce unintended pregnancy. Advance provision of ECPs may increase timely use, thereby decreasing risk of unintended pregnancy.
Study design: We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE through February 2012 for randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) pertaining to safety and efficacy of advance provision of ECP. The quality of each individual study was evaluated using the United States Preventive Services Task Force evidence grading system.
Results: The search strategy identified 714 articles. Seventeen papers reported on safety or efficacy of advance ECPs in adult or adolescent women. Any use of ECPs was two to seven times greater among women who received an advanced supply of ECP. However, a summary estimate (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.69-1.18) of four RCTs did not demonstrate a significant reduction in unintended pregnancy over 12 months when advance provision was compared with standard provision of ECPs. Patterns of contraceptive use, pregnancy rates and incidence of sexually transmitted infections did not vary between treatment and control groups in the majority of studies among either adults or adolescents.
Conclusion: Available evidence supports the safety of advance provision of ECPs. Efficacy of advance provision compared with standard provision of ECPs in reducing unintended pregnancy rates at the population level has not been demonstrated.
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