Where can you get the morning after pill?


Where can you purchase the morning after pill?

Dear Reader, 

Good news! In the United States, several one-pill formulations of emergency contraception (EC; also called the "morning after pill") are available on the shelf in the family planning aisle at many pharmacies and drugstores. This EC goes by many names and includes the main active ingredient levonorgestrel. It’s available without a prescription and without sales restrictions based on age or gender. This means that anyone can buy it without having to show an ID as proof-of-age. Since different brands can vary in price and availability (though all are equally effective!), some people prefer to call the pharmacy or drugstore to check which types of EC are available before making the trip. It can also be purchased online through various retailers and pharmacies. If the options over-the-counter aren’t of interest, a few more options are available with a trip to a health care provider.  

The “morning after pill” is a bit of a misnomer — it’s recommended that it be taken within 72 hours following sex that occurs when a birth control method failed or was not used (though it may still work if taken up to 120 hours afterwards). However, the longer a person waits, the lower the effectiveness. Bottom line: it’s recommended to take it as soon as possible. It’s also wise to consider buying an extra package to have on hand for any future needs — that way; you’re able to take EC immediately if you need it. 

The price of EC varies by brand, region, and pharmacy. The brand name typically costs 40 to 50 dollars, while the generic versions are usually cheaper, ranging from 11 to 45 dollars. That said, price isn’t any indication of quality in this case. All of these brands contain the same medicine in the same amount, so they’re all equally effective. 

In addition to these over-the-counter EC pills, there are a few other types of EC that require either a prescription or a visit to a health care provider. Both options, a prescription pill formulation using ulipristal acetate (called Ella in the US) and the copper intrauterine device (IUD), are recommended for use up to 120 hours (or five days) after sex, and they may also be more effective for people with higher body weight than the over-the-counter options. If you'd like to learn more about those options, you can check out the Emergency Contraception category in the Go Ask Alice! archives. 

For those who have health insurance, they may be able to get EC at a low cost or no out-of-pocket cost, though typically this requires a prescription from a health care provider. Additionally, some cities make EC available for free at public hospitals — if you’re considering using EC, you could check to see if this is the case where you live. Lastly, sexual and reproductive health clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, also provide emergency contraception and often have a sliding scale for younger or low-income patients. 

Hope this helps! 

Last updated Aug 27, 2021
Originally published Mar 05, 1999

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