As a practicing OB-GYN, I have seen my patients miss their birth control pills when they can’t get to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription on time or when their prescription runs out, putting them at risk for an unplanned pregnancy. There is a movement underway to make the birth control pill available over the counter (OTC), without a prescription. That means people can start and continue using their pills without interruptions. The only difference between the pills going OTC and those available by prescription is how people get them. As a doctor I know it’s time to say goodbye to birth control pill prescriptions and refills and get the pill OTC already—here are six reasons why:
1. Birth control pills are safe enough to be over the counter
Birth control pills, both progestin-only pills and combined estrogen-progestin pills, are very safe regardless if patients get them by prescription or OTC. The pill has a strong safety record in its 50 years on the market and studies show that for most people, the pill is safer than lots of medications that are already available over the counter. And research shows that people can correctly identify potential risk factors on their own, just as they do for pain or allergy medications.
2. OTC birth control pills are just as effective at preventing pregnancy
Research shows that people who get their birth control OTC are able to understand the directions and take it correctly at the same rates as those who were given a prescription. Making birth control pills just as effective at preventing pregnancy no matter how patients get them.
Current OTC methods of birth control, like condoms and spermicide, are less effective than methods available by prescription. So people with more limited access to health care providers have fewer choices for more effective birth control, often settling for less effective methods. Having birth control pills available OTC means people can access a more effective method on their own terms.
3. OTC birth control pills are supported by professional organizations
Major professional medical organizations, including American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American Medical Association (AMA) support birth control pills going OTC for people of all ages. And the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) supports the move as well, with the majority of pharmacists feeling comfortable providing counseling as needed on the use of OTC birth control pills. Additionally, more than 100 sexual and reproductive health organizations have expressed support of birth control pills going OTC.
4. Birth control pills are already OTC all around the world
5. OTC birth control pills put your patients’ needs first
OTC birth control pills mean patients can start birth control when they need it and avoid waiting on an appointment with a health care provider. Increasing same-day access can help patients avoid pregnancy while they are waiting for a prescription for their birth control pills. OTC pills are especially helpful for increasing access to birth control for people with more limited access to timely health care, such as people living in rural areas.
Being able to walk into any pharmacy and get the birth control they need could save patients time and money. There may be hidden costs to getting a birth control prescription filled, including unpaid time off work, childcare, and transportation costs associated with getting to medical appointments and to the pharmacy.
OTC birth control pills increase patient privacy and control over decisions about their birth control by improving access to a more effective method of birth control that can be started and stopped by them, making it more accessible for sexually active people of all ages.
6. Patients still want to see you for their preventative care visits
Research shows that OTC birth control pills are not likely to decrease people’s preventative health care visits for things like Pap smears and STI screenings. And preventative care visits are also a time to check in with patients who are using OTC pills about how that’s going for them. Bottom line, people still want to get their health care needs met from a provider; they just don’t need (or want) to see us to get their birth control pill prescription.
Let’s get this done—join me in supporting the movement to make the birth control pill OTC. Sign up for Bedsider Providers emails for updates and more about how you can join the OTC birth control movement.