Trends in dispensing oral emergency contraceptives and safety issues: a survey of German community pharmacists

Int J Clin Pharm. 2019 Dec;41(6):1499-1506. doi: 10.1007/s11096-019-00911-6. Epub 2019 Sep 28.


Background Oral emergency contraceptives containing levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate are available without prescription and only in pharmacies in Germany since March 2015. Due to this change community pharmacists are responsible for evaluating whether the product is appropriate and to educate women on proper use. Objective To measure the utilization of emergency contraceptives without a prescription and describe potential concerns and safety issues identified by community pharmacists in Germany. Setting The Drug Commission of German Pharmacists' nationwide network of reference pharmacies which includes 860 community pharmacies. Methods Reference community pharmacies were asked to participate in the eleven-questions online survey. Respondents were asked to recall their experiences with oral emergency contraceptives in the past 3 months. Data were collected between January 8 and February 19, 2018. Main outcome measure The survey focused on the utilization of emergency contraceptives without a prescription in Germany, and on the pharmacists' experiences with (potential) problems and concerns regarding safe use. Results In total, 555 community pharmacies (64.5%) participated. Overall 38.2% of community pharmacists stated they dispensed six to ten courses of emergency contraceptives within the past 3 months. In addition, 54.3% of the pharmacists estimated they dispensed emergency contraceptives exclusively without prescription and 35.9% dispensed more than 30% of emergency contraceptives during night-time and emergency services. Moreover, 82.8% of pharmacists stated that emergency contraceptives were requested not by the women concerned but a third person and 44.3% identified uncertainties in woman's self-diagnosis. Three out of four pharmacists had concerns about the effective and safe use of emergency contraceptives. In situations suggesting sexually transmitted diseases, or suspicion for use of force, 59.5% and 55.8% of the pharmacists, respectively, dispensed emergency contraceptives. In cases of acute health impairment or chronic disease, or (potentially) relevant drug/drug interaction, the vast majority (91.0% and 90.5%) did not. Here, most pharmacists referred to gynecologists. Conclusion Pharmacists had safety concerns when dispensing emergency contraceptives. Professional expertise in evaluating the need for oral emergency contraceptives and the proper use is needed.

Keywords: Community pharmacy; Emergency contraceptives; Germany; Medication safety; Self-medication; Survey.

MeSH terms

  • Community Pharmacy Services / organization & administration
  • Community Pharmacy Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraceptives, Oral / supply & distribution*
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital / supply & distribution*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Levonorgestrel / administration & dosage
  • Norpregnadienes / administration & dosage
  • Pharmacists / organization & administration
  • Pharmacists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional Role
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data


  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital
  • Norpregnadienes
  • Levonorgestrel
  • ulipristal acetate