FDA panel approves over-the-counter birth control for women, Raleigh OBGYN reacts

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Thursday, May 11, 2023
FDA panel backs over-the-counter sales of birth control
Federal health advisers are recommending that a decades-old birth control pill be sold without a prescription

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- An FDA panel of advisers unanimously recommended the sale of a birth control pill for women over-the-counter (OTC).

It's a first-of-its-kind move for a contraceptive medication. The panel concluded that "the benefits outweigh the risks" of the birth control pill Opill.

"This does increase access and means that perhaps someone doesn't need to go through the burden of having a visit with a provider before they can initiate contraception, said Duke OBGYN Dr. Jonas Swartz. "And given that it's safe I think that's a really positive step."

Opill is said to contain only progestin and its use dates back to the 1970s. Many women are said to have negative side effects of other birth control pills that are a combination of progestin and estrogen.

Some women cite health reactions due to the estrogen hormone used in other birth control pills.

"I think that people make their decisions about contraception in different ways," said Swartz. "And I think it's really important that we maintain access for people to consult with a provider they trust about the best contraceptive option for them. The pill, and in particular this pill, is not going to be right for every patient."

Currently, as a result of House Bill 96, which went into effect on January 1, 2021, women in North Carolina can be prescribed oral or transdermal birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor's order. However, the board certification to obtain that permission has not been as widely used as intended. "I'm not sure that the state has done as much as it could have to disseminate the availability of that law," Swartz added. "Some of it is to make sure that the public is aware that they can get contraception directly from a pharmacist without going to a healthcare provider, and I'm not sure that's widespread."

Several pharmacies in Raleigh told ABC11 either very few women were taking advantage of HB96 or there weren't any pharmacists on staff who were certified to participate.

With a panel recommendation of Opill, this increases birth control access for women.

"Patients are using all kinds of resources...talking to friends and family members about experiences they've had," replied Swartz. "This just adds one more option that patients potentially could use."

Should the Food and Drug Administration approve Opill for over-the-counter use, it is likely to be on shelves in the summer.

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