Ask Your Pharmacist
I moved to the province recently from B.C. Where I can get a prescription for birth control? Is it free here like it is in B.C.?
You moved from one beautiful province to another – welcome! Your question gives us an opportunity to review access to reproductive healthcare in New Brunswick.
I would like to clarify that no healthcare service in Canada is free. We are lucky as Canadians to have access to care that we do not pay out of pocket for (so it seems free), but there is a cost to every service that is paid by our taxes.
In New Brunswick, physicians, nurse practitioners, and midwives have the authority to assess and prescribe all forms of contraception approved by Health Canada, including IUDs, hormonal implants, and injections. If you do not have a primary care practitioner, you may make an appointment with a Horizon Health sexual health clinic (https://horizonnb.ca/services/public-health/sexual-health/) or go to eVisitNB.ca.
As of June 2022, your pharmacist may assess and prescribe hormonal contraception including oral contraceptives (i.e. “the pill”), contraceptive patches, and long-acting hormonal contraception injections. There is no fee for the assessment by the pharmacist, however, you will need to pay for your prescription.
To be eligible for pharmacist prescribing, patients must be residents of New Brunswick, have a valid NB Medicare card, be between the ages of 12 and 50, have a menstrual cycle and not be experiencing unusual menstrual changes, not be pregnant or breastfeeding or within six weeks post-partum, and not reside in a nursing home. For eligible patients, the program covers up to one (1) initial assessment and two (2) follow-ups per year. This program does NOT cover dispensing fee(s), injection fee(s) or prescription costs. For more information on the program, visit: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/health/patientinformation/PrimaryHealthCare/pharmacy_services/birth_control.html
In New Brunswick, birth control medication costs are covered only for those residents enrolled in the New Brunswick Prescription Drug Program (NBPDP, via Social Development). However, many private drug insurance plans cover contraception. Without private insurance coverage, the average cost of a month's supply of generic birth control pills is $40.
Emergency contraception, also known as the “Morning After Pill” (i.e. Plan B) is available without a prescription in New Brunswick at a cost of approximately $45. At the pharmacy, you can ask for Plan B or emergency contraception and the pharmacist will provide you with the medication, review how it works and advise you on how to manage potential side effects. When taken within five days of unprotected sex, the morning-after pill reduces the risk of pregnancy. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. Emergency contraception is not an abortion pill – it prevents a pregnancy from happening. Once a pregnancy has occurred, emergency contraception does not work.
Medication abortion was approved by Health Canada in 2015, using drugs known as RU-486 or mifepristone. Available under the Canadian brand name Mifegymiso, mifepristone is considered a safe and effective option for medical abortion according to the World Health Organization. Mifepristone is available as a prescription by physicians and nurse practitioners in New Brunswick, and the medication is covered at no cost to you with a valid New Brunswick Medicare number. A prescription for mifepristone may be presented to any pharmacy in New Brunswick.
Your community pharmacist is someone you can trust to support your reproductive rights. Most pharmacies have a private counselling area and provide access to a full spectrum of family planning supports including birth control, emergency contraception, and medical abortion. Your pharmacy team will work with you to find timely access to the medication, and discretion will be used to protect your personal health information. Your pharmacist will treat you with professionalism, and provide counselling about how to manage side effects and what to expect from your medication therapy options.
Dr. Kevin McLaughlin (PharmD, BScPharm, BSc, ACPR) is the Director of Professional Practice with the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association. Kevin's home practice is at Kennebecasis Drugs, Rothesay, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.
Dr. Kevin McLaughlin (PharmD, BScPharm, BSc, ACPR) is the Director of Professional Practice with the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association. Kevin's home practice is at Kennebecasis Drugs in Rothesay, New Brunswick. His opinions are published in several newspapers for educational and informational purposes only. They are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question you’d like to see answered in his column, you can send it to him at AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.