1. Health
Trisha Torrey

Should Birth Control Pills Be Sold Over-the-Counter?

By November 27, 2012

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Now - you may wonder why I would ask such a question on a patient empowerment website - so bear with me. There's more to this than meets the eye.

I first encountered this possibility last week when I read an article at CNN.com that reported on the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' recommendation that oral contraceptives (meaning birth control pills) be sold in the United States without a prescription. It seems I'm behind the times, though, because the idea of over-the-counter (OTC) oral contraception was first publicly introduced in the early 1990s.

What makes this a patient empowerment topic is that it provides women with choices, more control over their use of oral contraceptives, and therefore pregnancy, and some control over the cost. When patients have choices, they can, and should, empower themselves with the right information to make intelligent decisions.

What decisions need to be made that can be made if birth control pills and no longer prescription-only, and go OTC?

Young women who are reluctant to see a gynecologist would be able to take birth control to prevent pregnancy instead of depending on the male to use a condom. In the past, that reluctance has meant they depended on the man to protect from pregnancy. With OTC pills, they can take back that control.

OTC Birth control pills could be less expensive than they are as a prescription drug - although - depending on an individual woman's insurance, the insurance co-pay she pays today could actually cost her less from her pocket than buying them over-the-counter. One downside of OTC birth control pills would be that insurance might stop covering their cost all together, which, for insured women, might make them more expensive.

Certainly birth control is far less expensive than getting pregnant and giving birth. It's also far less expensive than an abortion, both emotionally and practically. With OTC birth control, women can make better choices than others.

For those concerned that they wouldn't know how to choose the best contraceptive for them - well - they can go to the doctor, get an exam, and ask. Just because one doesn't need a prescription doesn't mean the doctor can't suggest the right one.

As it turns out, there are many countries around the world where no prescription is required for oral contraceptives, including most of South America, Eastern Europe and Russia. Canada, most of Europe, and Australia still require a prescription.

So there are some of the pros and cons - and an interesting decision to think about.

Other widely prescribed drugs have shifted successfully from prescription-only to OTC in the past few years including Naprosin, Prilosec, Rogaine, and Claritin. According to the CDC, when nicotine patches and gum went OTC last year, attempts to quit smoking doubled. We have to wonder whether that many more unwanted pregnancies would be prevented with OTC oral contraceptives, too?

So there are some pros and cons for you. What do you think? Can empowered patients make these decisions? Take this poll and if you'd like, please comment below.

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Photo Tim Matsui / Getty Images

Comments
November 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm
(1) Rachel says:

Heck ya birth control puills should be sold OTC!!! A man can choose to buy and use a condom, something which has to be used by him to prevent pregancy, OTC. I as a female should be able to buy equally effective birth control that I can choose to use whether my man uses his condom or not, with the same ease of access that a man has got!!!!

December 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm
(2) christina says:

i agree with rachel, i like the fact that i can be as responsible with a OTC birthcontrol just like a man can be with condoms, i will feel way better with knowing if the condom fails i will still have the pill in my system …

August 23, 2013 at 2:52 am
(3) Manoj says:

Completely agreed !!! As OTC is far less expensive and better solution in some situations.

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