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Health & Medicine

FDA Considers Whether to Roll Out Over the Counter Birth Control

— May 26, 2023

The U.S. may soon offer birth control without a prescription.

During a time when reproductive rights in the United States are under threat in many states there is potentially a glimmer of hope from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency announced that for the first time it is considering allowing women to obtain birth control pills in the U.S. without a prescription.

It was announced earlier this month that the agency would convene a two-day meeting with a group of independent advisers. It will be the task of this group to sift through the facts and figures to determine if such a step is safe and viable.

Up until now, in order to obtain birth control pills, women have needed a prescription from their doctor. This can have its problems, and some women have actually struggled to get a prescription. This can be because they lack health insurance, cannot find the time to attend a doctor’s appointment, or simply can’t afford the costs.

While this potential move seems promising, especially in regards to increasing access, it is yet to be seen whether there will be any restrictions put into place. Perhaps women will need to be a certain age to receive over the counter pills and will have to provide identification to purchase them, for example.

FDA Considers Whether to Roll Out Over the Counter Birth Control
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The specific drug being reviewed is on the market under the brand name Opill and is sold by Perrigo, a pharmaceutical company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which specializes in over the counter medications. Perrigo manufactures many well-known products, including sleep aids, hair growth remedies and even baby formula.

Opill uses a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone and is described as a progestin-only pill as it does not use estrogen as do many other birth control pills. This pill has the backing of some major experts in the industry such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians.

It may not come as a surprise, however, to find that groups such as the Catholic Medical Association are opposed to the proposed measure. The head of the organization’s healthcare committee, Dr. Timothy Millea has said, “It eliminates the need for young ladies to see a physician for the prescription.”

The group has also raised concerns ranging from risks of abuse by sex traffickers to potential health concerns by consumers not pursuing the established channels to obtain the medication.

It is also reasonable to wonder if this over the counter version of the birth control pill would be as effective as the prescribed versions. It often seems that the medicine obtained without a prescription is not as good. Opill is an older type medicine, which means it should have fewer side effects as its been tweaked throughout the years.

The only caveat is that birth control pills generally need to be taken at the same time each day to maximize effectiveness. If a dose is missed, the missed dose should be taken as soon as a person remembers. Thus, one of the primary concerns of critics is that without guidance from a medical professional, the correct use of the drug may not be made clear to the patient and there will be more room for error.

These are all things that the FDA will be considering before making a final decision. It is projected it will reach a conclusion by the end of the summer; the exact date is still unknown.


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