‘Morning after’ misleading Schoolies on emergency contraception

Approximately half of Schoolies are unaware emergency contraception is available and more than one-quarter believe it is harmful according to a new Australian research study urging a re-think on outdated and misleading ‘morning after’ terminology.

Published in the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA)’s flagship journal Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research, the study led by researchers from Griffith University analysed 500 responses by Schoolies at Surfers Paradise in 2017, finding 63% were unaware emergency contraception was available without prescription, and that young women were two to three times more likely than young men to show understanding of its availability, use, safety and effectiveness.

Lead researcher Denise Hope, from Griffith’s School of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, said while rates of understanding of emergency contraception in Schoolies paralleled the general population, they formed a more vulnerable cohort.

“Numerous studies tell us engagement in intoxication and unprotected sex is very high at Schoolies, both in Queensland and in Victoria and Western Australia, and the impact of unplanned pregnancy is significantly greater in younger people,” Hope said.

“Schoolies may not access emergency contraception when indicated due to fear of harm, uncertainty about its effectiveness window or where to access it.

“We may not be able to change behaviours, but we can increase options and peace of mind for young people.”

With less than two months before the first Schoolies are due to descend on the famed holiday strip, Hope said the timing was right to have clearer discussions about the language of emergency contraception.

“Half of respondents thought the window of effectiveness was either 12 or 24 hours, which tells us the ‘morning after’ misnomer is clearly misleading,” she said.

“While the effectiveness of emergency contraception is enhanced by its timely use, young women should be made aware they have up to five days following unprotected intercourse to access the medicine from a pharmacy.

“This phrasing should be abandoned, in favour of ’emergency contraception’, which is more clinically appropriate and descriptive.

“Pharmacists are an accessible source of free advice, provision of support relating to sexual health and referral as necessary.”

The article ‘Emergency contraception awareness in an at-risk population’ is now available via SHPA’s Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research (JPPR).