Doctor Group Says Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over-The-Counter
November 21, 2012

Doctor Group Says Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over-The-Counter

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology that birth control pills are so safe that they should be available openly on drugstore shelves.

The group said with its new opinion, it hopes to reduce unintended pregnancies by not requiring a prescription for these pills.

"Oral contraceptives are very safe, and data show women can make these decisions for themselves," Kavita Nanda, a physician with FHI 360 in Durham, N.C., told USA Today.

Kirsten Moore, president of the non-profit Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Washington, D.C., said that many predictive health advocates were both surprised and excited that major physician groups entertain the idea.

Some doctors are concerned about the idea of making birth control pills available on shelves due to concerns that women might skip Pap smears and other care if they do not need to go to the doctors for reliable birth control.

"I am mystified as to why ACOG would make a recommendation like this, because birth control pills do have some significant side effects," Donna Harrison, a physician in Berrien Center, Michigan, told USA Today.

ACOG's report says birth control pills have some risks, but points out that so does other drugs available on store shelves, such as Aspirin and Tylenol.

Nanda said that risk such as blood clots and stroke are much higher for women who get pregnant. She added that women can use self-administered questionnaires about their health and habits to determine if the pills are safe enough for them.

The group says that just because the pills would be available over the counter doesn't mean patients will stop going to the doctor. One study found that women in Mexico, where birth control pills are available without prescriptions, were nearly as likely as those who got prescriptions to stay up to date with Pap smears.

Although for the most part the report seems positive about the results of moving to a non-prescription birth control pills concept, the group says that they are concerned about whether insurers will pay for the drugs when a doctors note is no longer needed.

Despite the report, the U.S. is still a ways away from moving to a nonprescription birth control pill. Daniel Grossman, a San Francisco physician and vice president of IBIS Reproductive Health, is a leading advocate for over-the-counter birth control. He said that he knows of no pharmaceutical company that has started the studies that would be required for FDA review.

He said the new support from doctors could encourage companies to try, and that it is likely that the first pills considered would be "mini-pills" that use progestin but not estrogen.

The Obama administration overruled a decision by the FDA to move emergency contraceptive pills, or Plan B "morning after" pills, to store shelves.

The FDA said in a statement that it is willing to meet with any pharmaceutical company that may want to switch its product to over-the-counter status.

"It is a pretty bold move on the part of ACOG," Grossman told CNN. "I really respect that the organization decided to make this statement after reviewing all the evidence. It's not very common where you hear a physician organization say, 'We think there should be a change so that our patients don't have to see us anymore.' "