Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 12/31/2010 11:17:43 AM ET 2010-12-31T16:17:43

Forget the sequined bag and sky-high heels. In certain circles, the hottest New Year’s accessory appears to be a dose of emergency contraception.

The dawn of the new year typically sees a sharp spike in requests for pills that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, say researchers, drugmakers and health advocates.

“With the long holiday weekend, there are breaks in technique, people are not getting to the pharmacy and there’s a lot of bad judgment,” speculated Dr. Edward S. Linn, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago.

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Queries to the website not-2-late.com — "Your website for the 'Morning After'" — run by Princeton University, climb in the first few days of January, according to James Trussell, the professor of economics and public affairs who maintains the site. Visitors can find detailed background on emergency contraception options, including recipes for do-it-yourself treatments using high doses of common birth control pills.

Trussell says there's been no formal research to verify an increase in use around New Year's Eve, or similar claims that demand rises near Valentine's Day, for that matter.

But e-mails flood the website of the maker of Plan B One-Step, the latest incarnation of Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill,” at least according to the manufacturer.

Officials at Teva Women's Health refused to say exactly how many patients buy the drug in early January compared with other times, but spokeswoman Allison Pishko swears it’s a lot. That’s especially true since the drug became available without prescription to people 17 and older in 2006.

The rumored New Year’s spike in emergency contraception — or EC —  helped spur the National Institute for Reproductive Health to create an awareness campaign. Last year’s event, for instance, was called “Don’t Drop the Ball on New Year’s Eve” and focused on urging young women to think ahead about hooking up on Dec. 31.

“We know that advance provision is a great idea,” said Aileen Gleizer, coordinator of the agency’s Back Up Your Birth Control campaign.

Half of pregnancies unintended
In the U.S., about half of the more than 6 million pregnancies that occur each year are unintended and more than 1.2 million end in induced abortion, according to government figures.

For the first time this year, New Year’s revelers have three ways to prevent pregnancy after the fact. The prescription-only drug ella was released in the U.S. Dec. 1 after gaining Food and Drug Administration approval last summer. Ella, produced by Paris-based Laboratoire HRA Pharma, works by blocking the hormone progesterone, either stopping or delaying ovulation. It is effective up to 120 hours, or five days after unprotected sex.

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Ella joins the one-dose Plan B One-Step and the two-pill drug known as Next Choice, manufactured by Watson Laboratories Inc. Both rely on high doses of a synthetic progesterone, called levonorgestrel, to prevent ovulation. They’re effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex and perhaps longer, though the effectiveness diminishes quickly.

Requests for emergency contraception come mainly from younger women ages 18 to 29, who often don’t use birth control reliably, and from older women in their 40s who didn’t think they had to, Linn said.

Their situations might be different, but their reasons for needing emergency contraception are the same, notes Linn. He applauds the wider number of available drugs, but believes that stringent prescription requirements stifle access for women and their partners.

“In general, the more options the better,” Linn said, adding: “Let’s not get pregnant in 2011.”

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Science behind your New Year’s Kiss

  1. Closed captioning of: Science behind your New Year’s Kiss

    >>> you want to start the new year off right? don't go on a diet. don't save money. pucker up.

    >> most boys don't kiss like that.

    >> it's not just tradition or movie magic. it's actually science. find the right person to kiss at midnight tomorrow and you'll kick off the new year on a natural high . sheryl is a research scientist at the university of texas . she's also the author of the new book "the science of kissing." all right, cheryl. i love this subject. and as you point out, kissing is not just magic, it's chemistry. it's neuroscience. what happens when you kiss?

    >> well when we kiss someone, we're engaging all of our senses. so it's a chance to get in very close proximity to someone and our bodies have a natural way. like a natural litmus test to tell us about our capability with someone else .

    >> and --

    >> an open opportunity -- oh, sorry.

    >> it's ultimate opportunity to what?

    >> to just learn more about the other person, and figure out if you might have a future together.

    >> absolutely. and i love talking about sort of the neuroscience of this, because as i was reading this piece by you, a kiss influence is an important kem dmal our brains and bodies responsible for promoting social bonding. and during a passionate kiss our blood vessels dilate and brains receive more oxygen than normal. so should we be kissing more?

    >> well, it's a very healthy behavior. i mean, it's so important in long-term relationships, too. when we kiss someone, we get this boost of a hormone called oxytocin known as the love hormone responsible for feelings of attachment, solidifying that bond you share with someone, whether it's been five months or 25 year, it's that harmony that keeps couples going strong when you see an elderly couple that's been together 50 years somewhere. it's that oxytocin that's probably keeping them together and kissing promotes that.

    >> so interesting, because you also point out that a bad kiss can lead to chemical chaos. explain?

    >> well, kissing is a way to really assess your capability with someone. whether you might have a future together, and the majority of both men and women in evolutionary psychology studies, 55% of men, 60% of women have ended a budding relationship because of a bad kiss. a lot of that has to do with more than meets the eye. our sense's smell, for example, might give us some keen insight into the genetics of someone else . parts of the genetic code, like things for immunity. by kissing someone, our bodies naturally sense whether things may be right and whether we should take things a little further.

    >> sheryl , your advice for new year's eve night what is it?

    >> well, it could be your big opportunity. not just your opportunity with new to take this litmus test pep whether your husband, wife or even a parent and child. it's a powerful way to express yourself , like nothing else. the most intimate act we can engage in. mip advice if you're near someone and want to take the chance, go for it.

    >> all right.

    >> if it doesn't work out, if it is chemical chaos, you have valentine's day coming down the line.

    >> that's right. sheryl , "making out is good." love your book "the science of kissing." thanks so much.

    >> thanks, norah. happy new year.

    >> happy new year to you. and happy kissing, everybody.

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