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How to answer your patients’ FAQs about OTC birth control pills

What providers need to know to answer patients' questions about OTC birth control pills.

by Robin Watkins, CNM, WHNP-BC

published 07/13/23

On July 13, 2023, the FDA approved Opill, one brand of progestin-only birth control pills for over-the-counter (OTC) access without an age restriction. This is great news for access to birth control when restrictions on reproductive health services and barriers to access contraception are on the rise. Here are Bedsider’s answers to the most frequently asked questions about OTC pills:

What are OTC birth control pills?

Getting the birth control pill over the counter means you can buy it without ever talking to a health care provider. You can get the pill right off the shelf at the drug store and other retail locations, probably next to the condoms and the lube. The only difference between getting the birth control pill over the counter and getting it with a prescription is how you get it. They work the same way. Whether you get the pill over the counter or with a prescription, it’s a pill that you take once a day that works by releasing hormones to prevent pregnancy before it starts. The birth control pill is NOT an abortion pill and it’s NOT emergency contraception either.

Why do we need OTC birth control pills?

There are so many reasons! Getting your birth control pills OTC means you can start and stop using them on your own, allowing you to prevent pregnancy on your own terms. Getting the pill OTC could save you time and money since you don’t have to see a doctor to get them. They are as safe as other medications that are sold over the counter (that’s why the FDA approved them for OTC use!). The biggest medical associations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American Medical Association (AMA) agree that birth control should be available over the counter. Also, birth control pills have been available OTC all over the world for decades.

Are all birth control pills going to be available over the counter?

Nope. Right now, there is only one brand of pill that’s been approved to be available for sale over the counter without a prescription. It’s called Opill and it’s a progestin-only birth control pill, or mini-pill. You take one pill every day around the same time, and it releases a small amount of progestin into your body to prevent pregnancy. Opill doesn’t have estrogen in it, so pretty much anyone can use it safely. There is another type and brand of birth control pill that contains estrogen and progestin that is going through the process to become available OTC, but it may be a few more years before that happens.

Can I get OTC birth control pills today?

No, not yet. While one progestin-only pill, named Opill, was approved for sale over the counter by the FDA, you can’t actually go to the store and get it yet. Now that it’s approved, the manufacturers have to get to work to make it affordable and accessible for everyone! We don’t know yet when it’ll be available (or exactly how much it’ll cost) but you can follow Bedsider on social for updates on OTC pills (and more!).

I’m using the pill right now. Do I have to switch to OTC pills?

Nope! Prescription birth control pills are not going away. You can keep taking the pills you are already using—you’ll just need to keep getting a prescription for them. If you want to switch to over-the-counter pills when they become available on the shelf, that’s okay too.

But I need to start BC today! What can I do?

You can still get a prescription for your birth control pills. There are so many options for birth control that you can access right now, including ones that are already available OTC without a prescription and ones you can order and have delivered to your door! And you can still get a prescription for your birth control pills from a health care provider. Bedsider’s method explorer is a great place to learn about all your birth control options and find a method you love today. And if you’re ready to access your birth control pill OTC, follow us on social @Bedsider and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s available!

Robin Watkins is the Sr. Director, Health Care at Power to Decide. Robin is a midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner focused on expanding provider capacity to offer equitable, resonant, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health care. Robin provides clinical care in the Washington, DC area. When she is not talking sex or placing IUDs, you can find her riding her bike on the streets of DC or eating ice cream for dinner.
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