Could over-the-counter oral contraception be a reality in the United States? HRA Pharma, a French pharmaceutical company, hopes so, according to Vox. They’re partnering with Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit research organization, to begin the process of petitioning the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a long slog but both parties are optimistic.
Making the pill available over-the-counter is an old argument, going back to the late 1960s. Of course, it’s been met with the claims that birth control allows women to be more promiscuous, but it’s gained some support from major medical organizations. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed the idea of an over-the-counter birth control pill, and both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family say that it’s safe for over-the-counter use. Unlike most prescription medications, the pill is not habit-forming, it doesn’t require a particular diagnoses to be used, most users take the same dose, and it causes very few deaths. The side-effects, which can include depression and weight-gain, are well-known and extensively researched, making oral contraception one of the safest drugs on the market. As HRA Pharma told Vox, “Oral contraceptives are some of the best-studied medicines on the market today and enjoy longstanding support from medical and public health experts.”
All in all, the pill is one of the most popular forms of birth control out there, but it can still be tricky for many women to get ahold of regularly. It can be awkward to have that conversation with your doctor and even more of a pain to have that prescription renewed, sometimes as frequently as every six months. Because the pill is intended for daily use, missing doses compromises its effectiveness.
Ibis and HRA Pharma see over-the-counter birth control as the solution. Ibis president, Kelly Blanchard, was unwilling to commit to a time frame but said they hope to make OTC oral contraception a reality “within a few years.” The goal is to first secure FDA approval for a progestin-only pill, which generally can be used by more women. The other type of oral contraceptive, a combination of estrogen and progestin, can cause problems for women who have high blood pressure or who smoke. But Blanchard is optimistic that approval for the progestin-only pill will lead to swift approval for the combination type. Ibis and HRA Pharma are also hoping that the existing approval of emergency contraception, also a progestin-only medication, will speed things along.
Of course, when it comes to women’s health, it’s hard to imagine anything happening without a fight. Surprisingly, the idea of over-the-counter oral contraception has bipartisan support, but things get sticky once payment and insurance issues are brought into the conversation. But despite the incoming Trump administration, Blanchard told Vox that she hopes the FDA “will follow their process and judge it on its merits. And we think the merits are strong.”
So, fingers crossed that in a few years we’ll all be able to enjoy an over-the-counter pill. It really is about time.