Each house of the Maryland General Assembly will debate and vote on a bill that would permit pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives. While the bill is still pending, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have released the findings of a study that found oral contraceptives could safely be sold to women and teenagers without a prescription.
Women’s rights and health advocates have pushed for oral contraceptives to be sold over the counter for years. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argued that making “the pill” available over the counter could reduce unwanted teen pregnancy and abortion.
“Oral contraceptives are popular, safe and effective methods of pregnancy prevention for women and teens,” said Dr. Krishna Upadhya, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of pediatrics who led a group of pediatric, adolescent and women’s health experts in the study. “Our review emphasizes that any future over-the-counter pill has the potential to benefit teens, and there is no scientific rationale to restrict access based on age.”
Over half of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 use the pill, according to data collected by National Survey of Family Growth. Other countries have already taken the steps to make birth control pills more readily available to women and teenagers, so the United States has a bit of catching up to do.
Some health officials disagree with over-the-counter sales, arguing that oral contraceptives can have negative long-term effects and do not provide protection again sexually transmitted disease. These physicians are not alone, because religious groups have also opposed the idea.
In recent years, Congress has made effort to alter the law to allow oral contraceptives to be sold over the counter, but the support just wasn’t there. California and Oregon have passed bills allowing pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives. Maryland and other states have taken up the issue, since federal legislative efforts are now in limbo.
A French pharmaceutical company is also joining in on the effort. HRA Pharma have plans to offer oral contraceptives to women, who don’t seek advice from a health care provider. However, the company will have to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before moving forward.
The Johns Hopkins’ study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health this week. The researchers reviewed data on teen’s ability to follow the recommended medication dosage, women and teenagers related to effectiveness and safety of oral contraceptives, the impact on sexual behaviors and the potential pregnancy risks that are associated with different types of contraceptive methods. There are also concerns that teenagers may not receive the proper guidance and information about oral contraceptives, if they don’t routinely consult a health provider.
The pending legislation would require insurers to cover the cost of the contraceptives, even though the contraceptive would be dispensed without a prescription.