As of August 1, Armenia will require a doctor’s prescription for sales of Cytotec, a Pfizer-made stomach-ulcer drug that Armenian women often misuse for at-home abortions. But while specialists have hailed the new regulation, the medication still appears to be available for sale without a prescription in some Armenian pharmacies.
Cytotec is contraindicated for pregnant women because it causes severe uterine contractions, which can result in bleeding and miscarriages. The Ministry of Health stated that it removed the drug from over-the-counter sales because of the potential effects, ranging from post-hemorrhage anemia to death, that it can have on pregnant women who ignore those contraindications.
Countries other than Armenia also require a prescription for its use.
But despite the ministry’s new rule, sales of Cytotec appear to be continuing without a prescription. Clerks at nine pharmacies visited by EurasiaNet.org on August 1 in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, said that they still had the medication available for sale without a prescription.
After August 2, however, such sales will be “difficult,” the clerks said. Hundreds of Cytotec pills have been sold in the days leading up to the August-1 switchover to prescription-only sales, they added.
At just 200 drams (50 cents) for a 200-microgram tablet, Cytotec's cost is 100 times lower than that of a hospital abortion.
According to Ministry of Health data provided to EurasiaNet.org, imports of Cytotec to Armenia soared by tenfold between 2010 and 2011, the latest year for which complete data is available, to 26,655 packs.
Research by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and a 2012 investigation by EurasiaNet.org indicate that usage of the Cytotec pill in disregard of its contraindications may have contributed to this decrease.
“Research shows that the use of contraceptives has increased by seven percent in our country [since 2010], while the number of abortions has drastically decreased,” asserted UNFPA Armenia Assistant Representative Garik Hayrapetian. “The reason lies in the use of Cytotec. There is no other explanation.”
Contraceptives are available, yet not widely used in Armenia. In many cases, especially in the regions, “family planning” amounts to abortions, including such folk-remedies as jumping off armoires and drinking vodka with pepper.
Reasons for these attempts vary. Sometimes it’s a “shameful” pregnancy resulting from an out-of-wedlock relationship. Often, families are unable either to provide for a baby or to pay for a hospital abortion.
In some cases, Armenian women opt for gender-based abortions out of a traditional preference for baby boys – a common problem throughout the South Caucasus.