Effectiveness of Hormonal Contraceptives in Patients with Higher Weights

Introduction

Obesity is becoming more prevalent every year and as pharmacists, it is important to revisit current contraceptive options for these patients. Overweight patients are defined as having a BMI ranging from >25-29.9 kg/m2 and obese patients a BMI >30 kg/m2. Currently there are no safety contraindications in patients with a BMI > 25 kg/m2 alone when initiating oral contraceptives according to the current CDC guidelines; however, efficacy with these agents raises a valid question. We will address efficacy of both hormonal contraceptives as well as other modes of contraception.

Currently, there are several theories on how obesity can affect the efficacy of contraceptives. One theory is that the absorption of contraceptives may be increased due to the higher cardiac output that leads to increased blood flow, thus causing a faster gastric emptying of the drug meaning that the drug has less opportunity to be absorbed. Another thought is that higher levels of lipoprotein found in obese people may compete with drugs for binding sites on albumin, causing there to be more unbound drug. Furthermore, some studies revealed that there may be an association between obesity and a lower concentration of sex hormone-binding globulin. Hepatic metabolism and excretion of drugs may also be affected by obesity. While there isn’t one clear indication that may cause these discrepancies, there have been many studies conducted to test effectiveness in various types of contraceptives.

Importantly, there is a specific term used throughout research studies to determine efficacy of different contraceptive methods called Pearl Index (PI). PI is a numerical value used to indicate the number of pregnancies that occur for every 100 women per years of use. Additionally, some trials looked at the minimum serum concentrations of hormones that were necessary to suppress ovulation thus preventing pregnancy (levonorgestrel 0.3 ng/mL).

Combined Hormonal Contraceptives (CHCs)

One study compared a CHC that contained 30 mcg of ethinyl estradiol (EE) and 150 mcg of levonorgestrel (LNG) in normal-weight versus obese women. Obese women were found to have a lower AUC and Cmax of both EE and LNG, but clinically speaking, LNG levels were above 0.3 ng/mL in each population which is clinically significant enough to suppress ovulation and prevent pregnancy.

Another study evaluated the efficacy of an extended-cycle CHC that contained 20 mcg of EE and 100 mcg of LNG for 84 days, followed by 10 mcg EE for 7 days. The study concluded that pregnancy rates were similar across weight and BMI and did not report any significant discrepancies amongst weight classes.

Vaginal Rings

For the vaginal ring containing 11.7 mg of etonogestrel and 2.7 mg of ethinyl estradiol (NuvaRing®), there was a study that evaluated normal-weight versus obese women. Like the combined oral contraceptive pill, the ring did cause lower serum concentrations of hormones in obese women, but clinically there were no differences in ovarian follicle development. This suggests that efficacy is not compromised in obese women.

DMPA Injection

In a study that looked at the efficacy of the depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection in women stratified by BMI, the serum concentrations were significantly lower in obese individuals compared to normal weight women. Surprisingly, these serum concentrations were sufficient to suppress ovulation and efficacy was not compromised.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

In a large trial conducted on levonorgestrel-containing IUDs (two strengths, 8 mcg/24h or 13 mcg/24h), PIs revealed IUDs were effective at preventing pregnancy regardless of the patient BMI.

Exception: The Patch (Ortho Evra)

It is significant to note that obese women have lower efficacy with the hormonal contraceptive patch compared to other methods. Ortho Evra or Xulane (containing 6 mg norelgestromin, 0.75 mg ethinyl estradiol per patch) package insert states that from results of clinical trials, this patch may be less effective in women weighing greater than 90 kg. In trials conducted, it was reported that out of 15 pregnancies reported during the study, 5 of them were from a patient weighing more than 90 kg. The package insert also noted that women with a body weight >90 kg accounted for less than 3% of the study population, so it may be beneficial to conduct additional trials to determine efficacy of the patch for overweight patients.

In Conclusion

While elevated BMI alone is not a contraindication when initiating some contraceptives, it is important to recognize that overweight women are at a higher risk of comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, and thromboembolism which may be contraindications. If an individual only has an elevated BMI, CHCs, vaginal rings, or the DMPA injection may be appropriate to use given no clinically significant differences in their efficacy. It is important to advise overweight patients against using the hormonal patch due to the higher risk of unplanned pregnancies. Lastly, it is important to counsel patients that no contraceptive option is going to be 100% effective regardless of weight.

References:

  1. Kerns J, Darney P. Vaginal ring contraception. Contraception. 2011;83(2):107–115
  2. Roumen FJ. The contraceptive vaginal ring compared to the combined oral contraceptive pill: a comprehensive review of randomized controlled trials. Contraception. 2007;75(6):420–429.
  3. Segall-Gutierrez P, Taylor D, Liu X, Stanzcyk F, Azen S, Mishell DR., Jr Follicular development and ovulation in extremely obese women receiving depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate subcutaneously. Contraception. 2010;81:487–495
  4. Westhoff CL, Hait HI, Reape KZ. Body weight does not impact pregnancy rates during use of a low-dose extended-regimen 91-day oral contraceptive. Contraception. 2012;85(3):235-239. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2011.08.001
  5. Westhoff CL, Torgal AH, Mayeda ER, Pike MC, Stanczyk FZ. Pharmacokinetics of a combined oral contraceptive in obese and normal-weight women. Contraception. 2010;81:474–480
  6. Gemzell-Danielsson K, Apter D, Hauck B, et al. The Effect of Age, Parity and Body Mass Index on the Efficacy, Safety, Placement and User Satisfaction Associated With Two Low-Dose Levonorgestrel Intrauterine Contraceptive Systems: Subgroup Analyses of Data From a Phase III Trial. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0135309. Published 2015 Sep 17. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135309
  7. Janssen. Ortho Evra (norelgestromin/ethinyl estradiol) [package insert]. U.S Food and Drug Administration website. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/021180s043lbl.pdf. Revised August 2012. Accessed July 3, 2020.
  8. Simmons KB, Edelman AB. Hormonal contraception and obesity. Fertil Steril. 2016;106(6):1282-1288. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.07.1094

About the Author

Samantha Kim, PharmD is a recent graduate of University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Article reviewed by Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate and Brooke Griffin PharmD, BCACP

No Taxation for Menstruation: The Importance of Student Pharmacist Advocates

Pictured: Policy Postcards sent to Michigan Legislators from an event called “Galentine’s Day”

At the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, the APhA-ASP chapter’s inaugural Women’s Health Campaign hosted multiple events to educate and engage student pharmacists and the Ann Arbor community. While our Campaign focused on topics directly related to pharmacy, such as contraception and HPV vaccination, we have also taken the initiative to advocate for a crucial area of women’s health: menstruation.

Our American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) chapter, in collaboration with Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), hosted an event called “Galentine’s Day” in February. This event gave student pharmacists the opportunity to purchase women’s health-related buttons to raise money for Ozone House, a shelter in Ann Arbor, MI for homeless adolescents. Our profits went toward the purchase of menstruation products for this vulnerable population, many of whom are just beginning their period. Additionally, student pharmacists wrote to their state representatives to support abolishing the “Tampon Tax” in Michigan and throughout the United States.

Pictured: Buttons from Fundraiser

With this in mind, let’s take some time to educate ourselves…

What is a “Tampon Tax”?

Currently, states have the authority to determine which products have sales tax and which are exempted. Products such as lip balm and prescription drugs, are defined as “medically necessary items” and are therefore not imposed with a sales tax. Unfortunately, feminine hygiene products are categorized as “luxury items” and taxed (for reference, Michigan sales tax is 6%). Hence the name “Tampon Tax”. This is an example of women being disproportionately affected within health care.

On average, a woman will menstruate over 2,500 days in her lifetime. This equates to almost seven years of using around 17,000 tampons and sanitary napkins. With a 6% sales tax in Michigan, costs greatly add up, especially for something that is a naturally occurring part of many women and should be considered medically necessary.

The topic of menstruation is historically taboo within society, but more recently has lessened over the years. Now, we have seen governments in the U.S. and worldwide start to legislate around this idea of “period equity”, by ensuring proper menstrual education and equal access to hygiene products. Currently, ten states have legislation explicitly exempting feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Nevada*.

*Note: Oregon, Montana, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Alaska do not have a sales tax on any product.

Why should we abolish the “Tampon Tax”?

Feminine hygiene products are not luxury items. These products are used monthly and women should not have unfair financial burdens imposed upon them to purchase what are considered a medical necessity. This is especially true for women with lower socioeconomic status and those without homes.

The main argument against abolishing the “Tampon Tax” is the yearly tax revenue from these products. Menstrual products contribute around $5 million dollars annually to the state of Michigan to be used in various social programs and school aid funds. While loss of revenue could be detrimental to these programs, legislators can creatively think of other ways to ensure that these state programs continue to have funding. Additionally, legislators in Michigan have stated this to be a smaller matter in comparison to other policy topics. But, with a tax affecting millions of women, this legislative act should be at the forefront. The important part to keep in mind is that these products should not have been taxed in the first place as they are medically necessary to such a large portion of the population.

The importance of student pharmacist advocacy!

With managing coursework, student organizations, internships, and self-care, it can be difficult for student pharmacists to stay up to date on legislative pharmacy updates. Though it may seem overwhelming, advocacy is anything that showcases pharmacy. This can range from hosting a “Pharmacy Day at the Capitol” to providing a blood pressure screening to a community member. These acts promote pharmacy practice. We are a generation of new future pharmacists where our profession is constantly innovating and expanding; we want to practice our license to its fullest potential. And we have the power to achieve these goals through pharmacy advocacy.

Menstruation and period products do not directly correlate with pharmacy. However, as health care professionals, it is important that we advocate for all of patient care!

Coming back to our “Galentine’s Day” event, students had the opportunity to write to their state and federal legislators supporting the abolition of the “Tampon Tax”. Overall, we raised around $200 for the Ozone House and were able to mail out 41 of our policy postcards to the following:

  • Eight Michigan State Senators
  • Eleven Michigan State House of Representatives
  • Two Michigan U.S. Senators
  • Two Michigan U.S. House of Representatives

Just two weeks after mailing out our postcards, I received a letter from Senator Jim Runestead (MI-15), who not only thanked me for sharing my thoughts and concerns of abolishing the “Tampon Tax”, but as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was going to meet to discuss the involved senate bills (currently SB123 and SB124) and finding resolutions for the women of Michigan.

Participation matters! Your voice matters! And most importantly…student advocacy is successful.

How do I get involved?

Whether you’re a pharmacist or student pharmacist, there are multiple ways to lend your voice to abolish the “Tampon Tax” and help others in need. Below are some resources to get started:

  • For student pharmacists, get involved with organizations like APhA-ASP that have committees dedicated to policy and women’s health!
  • Keep up to date with where Michigan’s SB123 and 124 are in the legislative process.
  • PERIOD. – A non-profit organization working to de-stigmatize periods, have accessible period products in public institutions, and abolish the “Tampon Tax”.
  • Helping Women Period – A non-profit organization based in Lansing, Michigan bringing free feminine hygiene products to homeless and at-risk women.
  • Ozone House – Continue our collaboration by helping those in need of menstruation products.

Together, we collectively say “No Taxation for Menstruation”!

References

  1. Censky, A. Legislators Try Again To Dismantle Michigan’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (2019). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  2. Klawiter, J. Michigan Tampon Tax (2017). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  3. Bryan, W. Bill introduced to remove Michigan’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (2019). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  4. Zraick, K. It’s Not Just the Tampon Tax: Why Periods Are Political (2018). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  5. Sagner, E. More States Move To End ‘Tampon Tax’ That’s Seen As Discriminating Against Women (2018). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)

About the Author

Tina Bednarz, PharmD Candidate is a student at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy

Article reviewed by Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate and Brooke Griffin PharmD, BCACP

Finding Gluten-Free Oral Contraceptive Options for Your Patients

Patients with celiac disease or who otherwise follow a gluten-free diet need to be aware of potential sources of gluten, especially in medications such as oral contraceptives. The FDA defines gluten as “proteins that naturally occur in [wheat, barley, and rye or their crossbred hybrids] and that may cause adverse health effects in persons with celiac disease”. Potential sources of gluten can come from excipient ingredients, which are used to bind pills. Starches used in excipients are typically derived from corn, potato, rice or tapioca which don’t contain gluten, but some starches may also be derived from wheat.

Besides the type of starch, the amount of starch in a pill can vary. While the FDA strictly regulates the active ingredients of drug products, drug manufacturers are allowed to use any quantity and type of FDA-approved excipient. Another factor to consider is that generic products only require the active ingredient to be identical to the brand and do not have to use the same excipient or inactive ingredients. So while a brand name medication may be gluten-free, the generic formulation isn’t guaranteed to also be gluten-free.

Determining if a Medication is Gluten-Free

If you’re looking for what ingredients are included in a medication, you can find them listed on the package insert, also known as the prescribing information. If the ingredients listed on the package insert don’t include what source they are derived from, such as ‘starch’ instead of ‘cornstarch’, then you should call the manufacturer to confirm the source.

Examples of both gluten-free and gluten-containing excipient ingredients include:

  • Pregelatinized starch, sodium starch glycolate: derived from corn, potato, rice, or wheat but chemically processed so gluten remaining is unlikely
  • Dextrans, dextrose: derived from corn and potato starch so they do not contain gluten
  • Dextrates, dextrins: derived from any starch source so you would have to call the manufacturer to confirm if gluten is included
  • Starch alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, and mannitol): some are derived from wheat but they are purified to no longer contain gluten

Another issue that can arise is cross-contamination. The FDA has stated that although they don’t collect data in regards to contamination with gluten, “the amount of gluten would be well below the levels we have estimated an inactive ingredient, such as wheat starch, could potentially contribute to an oral drug product”. If wheat happens to be an impurity in a drug listed as gluten-free, the FDA estimates that it could contain no more than 0.5 mg of gluten per pill (for reference, a slice of bread labeled ‘gluten-free’ may contain up to 0.57 mg of gluten and still meet FDA criteria for being considered gluten-free).

Drug Information Resources

DailyMed (https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/) is a reputable online resource for pharmacists to use as you are able to see the active and inactive ingredients in each geneic formulation of a drug. This may be a complicated resource for patients, so make sure to limit this resource to your own education.

Currently, there are several oral contraceptive options available that are gluten-free. To be 100% certain, it is best to consult either DailyMed or the package insert for the ingredient lists.

Patient Counseling

Ultimately, it is up to the patient to decide if they feel comfortable taking their particular oral contraceptive. If there is any uncertainty about a medication’s gluten-free status, contacting the manufacturer directly is the best way to clarify. Other birth control methods that don’t include gluten are non-oral options such as the Depo-Provera® shot, Nexplanon® implant, vaginal rings, condoms (depending on lubricant used), diaphragms, IUDs, transdermal patches and more.

As pharmacists, it is important to make note of patient allergies on their profiles as well as counsel patients on the inactive ingredients in their medications so that patients can feel more confident and at ease while taking their medications. You can apply your skills when caring for patients by keeping track if generic manufacturers change and informing patients if they are able to continue taking their medications.

References

  1. United States, Congress, Food and Drug Administration. “Gluten in Drug Products and Associated Labeling Recommendations: Draft Guidance for Industry .” Gluten in Drug Products and Associated Labeling Recommendations: Draft Guidance for Industry, 2017, pp. 1–12.
  2. Parrish, Carol. “Medications and Celiac Disease- Tips from a Pharmacist.” Celiac.org, Jan. 2007, celiac.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Medications_and_Celiac_Disease.pdf.

About the Author

birth control pharmacist headshots (2)Niamh O’Grady, PharmD Candidate, is a pharmacy student in the Class of 2021 at the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy.

Article reviewed by Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate and Brooke Griffin PharmD, BCACP

Updates in Male Contraceptive Agents

white round capsules

Male contraceptive agents have been highly anticipated as the next step in contraception innovation. To date, several hormonal agents have been developed and tested for safety and efficacy, with three products: Nesterone with Testosterone gel (NES/T), 11β-methyl-19-nortestosterone dodecylcarbonate (11β-MTNDC), and dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU). Currently, NES/T is leading in development and contraceptive ability.[1,2]

NES/T has been formulated as a gel containing Nesterone, also known as segesterone acetate (a “pure” progestin presently found in Annovera) in combination with testosterone. This product has passed phase I and phase IIa trials, and is currently in phase IIb trials with a predicted conclusion date for February 2021.[2] NES/T is formulated as a topical gel that can be applied to the shoulders daily with the drug action of sperm count/development suppression to thresholds that should translate to effective contraception with normal hormonal function.[2]

11β-MTNDC is a 28 day daily use oral tablet formulated to act as similarly to 28 day contraceptive regimens for females. The drug acts as a hormonal suppressant to impair spermatogenesis. It is currently in phase I trials, therefore its extent of efficacy and long term effects is still to be determined.[3]

DMAU is formulated as both a 28 day daily use oral tabletand a long acting injection (dosing frequency to be determined). DMAU has a similar action to 11β-MTNDC, and is also still under early investigation in phase I trials.[4]

Despite the difference in administration routes, these drugs have similar effects on male sex hormones. They suppress brain hormones called “gonadotropins,” which results in profound reduction of endogenous testosterone production. The low levels of testosterone thereby result in a reversible reduction in spermatogenesis within the testicles to the point of sperm development impairment, but not enough to cause lasting hormonal changes as of current trialing.[1] The drugs themselvesact as a supplement in place of the person’s own testosterone to maintain male hormonal functions. Current trialing has noted that each product does have the adverse of effect of minor acne at the beginning of treatment.[2,3,4] Participants also noted their concern with a lack of STI prevention.[5] However, with only low risk adverse effects demonstrated thus far in studies, and participants reporting these methods as “easy” treatment regimens to follow, these products appear acceptable for use in the eyes of the American male population.[2,3]

The utility of these products, if approved, is still being questioned. In one US survey participants stated that they would greatly consider the Nestorone topical gel as a first choice method of contraception. 6 However, based on previous contraceptive studies in the US and the United Arab Emirates, the percentages of men using methods of contraception is roughly 59% and 20% respectively.[7,8] According to a 2017 CDC study on contraception use in the U.S., approximately 42.5 million men (59% of the polled 72 million men in the study) engage in contraception practice.[7] With only just over half of the US male population reporting the use of contraception, it is understandable that drug marketing could be seen as risky to pharmaceutical companies if the products are still only in development.

The major obstacles to further drug development are marketing based support and acknowledgment. With only one major organization funding the research on these products, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, progress is very slow.[1] No major pharmaceutical marketing companies have made any public statements on male contraception as a new drug category, it may take longer than the full trialing time to hear more on product availability in the market.

These novel products, NES/T gel, oral DMAU and 11β-MNTDC, if proven to be effective contraceptive agents, would constitute a suitable alternative for couples that wish to participate in planned parenting, but wish to avoid or cannot use contraceptives indicated for females. Although the rate of progress is slow, it is substantial and the availability of male contraception agents may arrive within the next decade. For more information please follow the link to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/).

References

  1. Long JE, Lee MS, Blithe DL. Male Contraceptive Development: Update on Novel Hormonal and Nonhormonal Methods. Clin Chem 2019;65(1):153-160.
  2. Wang C, Page S, Nagia A, et al. Study of Daily Application of Nestorone® (NES) and Testosterone (T) Combination Gel for Male Contraception. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03452111. Dec 11, 2019.
  3. Wu S, Yuen F, Swerdloff RS, et al. Safety and Pharmacokinetics of Single-Dose Novel Oral Androgen 11β-Methyl-19-Nortestosterone-17β-Dodecyl carbonate in Men. J Clin Endocrinol Med 2019; 104(3):629-638.
  4. Gava G, Meriggiola M. Update on male hormonal contraception. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2019;10.
  5. Glasier A. Acceptability of contraception for men: a review. Contraception 2010; 82(5):453-456.
  6. Roth M, Shih G, Ilani N, et al. Acceptability of a transdermal gel-based male hormonal contraceptive in a randomized controlled trial. Contraception 2014;90(4):407-412.
  7. Daniels K., Amba J. Current Contraceptive Status Among Women Aged 15–49: United States, 2015–2017. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db327.htm. Accessed December 22 2019.
  8. Ghazal-Aswad S, Zaib-Un-Nisa S, Rizik DE, et al. A study on the knowledge and practice of contraception among men in the United Arab Emirates. J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care 2002; 28(4):196-200.
  9.  

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com


About the Author

Steven Gonzalez PharmD CandidateSteven Gonzalez, PharmD Candidate is a pharmacy student in the Chicago College of Pharmacy Class of 2022 at Midwestern University, with the dream of becoming a successful clinical pharmacist. In his time off, Steven enjoys spending time with his friends and family, going hiking, fishing, and watching classic movies.

Article reviewed by Brooke Griffin, PharmD, BCACP

Contraception During COVID-19: Pharmacy Best Practices

Pharmacists should not allow postponed or cancelled appointments to keep patients from accessing birth control. It’s important that patients understand how their pharmacy can continue to meet their contraceptive needs during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Pharmacists should inform patients that even though clinics and providers’ offices might be closed, their pharmacy is still able to facilitate refills, provide emergency contraception, and, in some states, prescribe hormonal contraception.

The following tips can help ensure your pharmacy is meeting patients’ contraceptive needs during COVID-19, while keeping your patients and pharmacy staff safe.

1. Encourage Contactless Communications and Dispensing 

Prevent patients from missing doses or going without contraception by preemptively contacting them via texts, emails, and calls to assess their needs. Encourage patients to utilize contactless communication to get in touch with the pharmacy for prescriptions or other items they want to order.

Pharmacies can provide contactless contraceptive care during COVID-19 by encouraging patients to obtain birth control prescriptions and products via mail, drive-through, or curbside pick-up services.


2. Promote and Supply Over-the-Counter Products

Visits to the pharmacy may be very limited for patients because of stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and other COVID-19-related barriers. Preemptively supplying prescriptions for emergency contraception can avert out of pocket costs while mitigating stress for patients that experience method failure and are unable to access the pharmacy in a timely manner.2 Encourage patients to have a pregnancy test on hand, in addition to over-the-counter contraceptive options, to ensure that patients’ contraceptive needs are met when routine visits to the pharmacy are not feasible.


3. Optimize Prescriptions and Anticipate Patient Needs

To maintain social distancing and the health of patients and employees, encourage providers to transmit new prescriptions electronically or via telephone.

Prescriptions for birth control should include maximum quantities and refills for a full year’s supply.2 Some states require health plans to cover dispensing a 12-month supply of birth control.3 Dispense the maximum amount allowed by the patient’s insurance and share the cash price if a patient desires paying out-of-pocket to limit visits to the pharmacy or clinic.

Pharmacy staff can proactively review patients’ profiles to anticipate upcoming refills and ensure the pharmacy’s birth control inventory is adequate to fulfill patient needs.

Check with your state’s COVID-19 pharmacy executive orders to ensure permitted emergency refills are being authorized.


4. Adapt Pharmacist Prescribing

Utilize Telehealth for Birth Control Visits

Patients are turning to telehealth services to access contraception during COVID-19. Transitioning your contraception service to telehealth wherever possible will ensure continuity of care while protecting the health and safety of patients and employees. Pharmacists can utilize telehealth to initiate contraception, assess and switch current methods, and adjust therapy as needed.

Due to COVID-19, some telehealth HIPAA regulations have loosened and health insurance plans are beginning to cover telehealth services.

Offer Methods that Don’t Require Blood Pressure Screening

Encourage patients to consider a progestin-only contraceptive if they’re unable to visit the pharmacy for a blood pressure screening.

Progestin-only contraceptive methods do not require a blood pressure screening in order to be safely prescribed, making them a feasible option when prescribing birth control via telehealth. Progestin-only options that can be prescribed by pharmacists and dispensed at the pharmacy include progestin-only pills (containing norethindrone or drospirenone) and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate injections (subcutaneous or intramuscular formulations).

Blood pressure measurement is required prior to initiating combined hormonal contraceptives—containing both estrogen and progestin hormones—due to the increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction in patients with hypertension or without blood pressure measurements.

This article was co-written by Whitney Russell, a student pharmacist at University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, and Kailey Hifumi, a student pharmacist at the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.

Click image to view and download our COVID guide.

Find out more about providing contraceptive care during COVID-19 on our COVID resource page

References

  1. CDC. Guidance for pharmacies during COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pharmacies.html; Published April 14, 2020. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  2. Family Planning National Training Center. What family planning providers can do to meet client needs during COVID-19. https://www.fpntc.org/resources/what-family-planning-providers-can-do-meet-client-needs-during-covid-19. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Oral contraceptive pills. Available at: https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/oral-contraceptive-pills/. Published May 23, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  4. Beyond the Pill. Contraceptive care during COVID-19. https://beyondthepill.ucsf.edu/contraceptive-care-during-covid-19. Accessed May 15, 2020.

Clinical Considerations for Contraception During COVID: Extended Duration of IUDs and Implants

Contraceptive care should not be compromised during this global pandemic. As many providers transition to contactless care methods via telehealth, patients that utilize long-acting reversible contraception may be worried if their intrauterine device (IUD) or implant has reached its expiration and needs to be removed or replaced. Pharmacists play an important role in educating patients about birth control, including what options are available to them when in-person appointments are not available at their regular clinic or doctor’s office. 

Expiration Dating 

The expiration date listed on the IUD and implant packaging should not be confused with the duration of use. The date stated on the packaging refers to the date by which the implant and IUD should be inserted.  Therefore, as long as the contraceptive device is inserted before the expiration date listed on the package, the IUD or implant will be effective for the entire duration indicated for each method. If the expiration date listed on the package has passed, the device is considered expired so it should not be used for a patient and should be discarded.  

Duration

Studies have demonstrated that IUDs and implants are effective past the FDA-approved duration. This evidence can help minimize concerns about ineffective devices that cannot be replaced due to cancelled doctor’s appointments due to COVID-19 or patient inability to go in due to exposure concerns, insurance loss, or any challenges. See table below to view extended evidence-based durations. 

Table modified from Reproductive Health Access Project

If the IUD or implant usage extends beyond the evidence-based duration, the patient should utilize an alternative birth control method until she is able to resume in-person visits with their provider to remove the device and possibly replace it with a new one if the patient desires. Providers should inform patients that leaving an IUD or implant in place past the evidence-based duration will not cause harm. While there are no safety concerns, there is no benefit as the device is not expected to be effective.

Pharmacists Roles

Pharmacists cannot prescribe or insert IUDs or implants, however, pharmacists have the ability to prescribe self-administered hormonal contraceptives in some states and can always provide over-the-counter barrier and emergency methods. If patients want an implant or IUD, pharmacists are able to initiate an alternative method in the meantime until patients are able to visit their clinic or doctor’s office for IUD or implant insertion. See our COVID page for more on providing contraceptive care during COVID-19. 

For patients not satisfied with their current birth control regimen who are interested in switching to an IUD or implant, pharmacists can refer the patient to a provider and educate the patient on proper bridging methods to prevent pregnancy during the transition to an IUD or implant. 

It is important that pharmacists stay up to date on birth control recommendations and clinical updates in order to provide guidance for patients and providers during a public health emergency. Pharmacists play an integral role in providing patients with the resources and education needed to make informed decisions on their contraceptive options. See the ACCP Women’s Health PRN Opinion Paper on the pharmacist’s role in safe and effective use of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. 

If a patient is having symptoms related to their IUD or implant, they should be seen for this at a local clinic or doctor’s office. To find a clinic that provides contraceptive devices, visit Bedsider’s clinic finder.

References


About the Author

Kailey Hifumi is a student pharmacist at the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.

Photograph of Kailey Hifumi

5 Pearls from the 2020 States Forum on Pharmacist Birth Control Services

The second annual States Forum on Pharmacist Birth Control Services recently was held by the Birth Control Pharmacist project in partnership with the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations (NASPA). Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, this year’s meeting was held virtually as representatives from across the United States, as well as Canada, discussed advances in pharmacist birth control services.

Following a brief overview of the current landscape from the 2019 report, representatives shared updates on pharmacist birth control services in their respective states. The implementation status among the states ranged from fully implemented, in progress, and under consideration, to not being considered at this time.

Each representative was able to provide insight on their successes, challenges, and tips on obtaining state-wide authorities to provide contraception services. Attendees also participated in breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas to improve public awareness, research and evaluation, payment for pharmacist services and advance policy.

Here are 5 pearls to take away from the 2020 States Forum:

  1. Exercise authorities granted by emergency regulations due to COVID-19. As the global pandemic continues to unfold, many states are allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency refills and extended supply quantities. This provision includes refills for hormonal contraception. This unique circumstance can highlight the benefits of implementing contraceptive services within the pharmacy and pave the way for expanded access to birth control.
  2. Identify champions to build a coalition for planned policy proposals. A common barrier expressed in the states forum was legislation halts due to COVID-19. It is important to use this time as an opportunity to expand our outreach to pharmacists and physicians to gain support on pharmacist contraceptive services in the meantime. By identifying pharmacist and physician champions to reach out to medical associations and organizations, states can hopefully overcome and alleviate apprehension from groups opposed to proposed legislation. By educating pharmacist colleagues of the value of providing these services and providing educational resources, we can mitigate pharmacist opposition to legislation. Consider reaching out to obstetrician-gynecologist colleagues, particularly those who are members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or have completed a family planning fellowship, to aid in coalition building and policy planning for pharmacist birth control services.
  3. Encourage fellow pharmacists to partake in providing contraceptive services. Pharmacists are key health care members and well equipped to provide these clinical services. There are currently more than 3000 participating pharmacies on the Birth Control Pharmacies map. However, there is still room to expand our reach to more communities as pharmacists. Many pharmacy schools have, or are in the process of implementing, curriculum to complement the implementation of birth control services within pharmacies throughout the US. In some states, legislation has grandfathered pharmacy school graduates to remove additional training barriers. Encourage your colleagues, preceptors, and teams to complete continuing education on contraception services, particularly if practicing in a state with a protocol or other authority available that allows pharmacists to prescribe contraception.
  4. Promote pharmacy services on different platforms to raise public awareness. Although a handful of states have implemented pharmacist birth control services, patients remain widely unaware. By promoting this pharmacy service via signs, social media platforms, partnerships, and through word of mouth, we can expand our impact within the community. Seek partnerships with local student pharmacists and student pharmacy organizations to further promote birth control services.
  5. Join the next States Forum on Pharmacist Birth Control Services. This forum is an opportunity to participate in valuable discussion, and share experiences and strategies to advance pharmacist contraception services in your state. This session was especially helpful for states that are in the process of, or are considering, pharmacy birth control legislation.

If you missed the 2020 States Forum, you may view the meeting recording.

Join the Birth Control Pharmacist email list to be notified of details for the next States Forum. 

The Birth Control Pharmacist project was established to provide training and education, implementation assistance, resources, and clinical updates for pharmacists prescribing contraception. Beyond service implementation, this project engages in advocacy, research and policy efforts within the community to expand the role of pharmacists in family planning.

The mission of NASPA is to provide support and to facilitate collaboration between state pharmacy associations to advance the profession of pharmacy.

This article was co-written by Kailey Hifumi, a student pharmacist at the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.

Contraception During COVID: California’s Medi-Cal and FamilyPACT Programs Cover Depo-SubQ Provera

We recently wrote about the importance of offering patients subcutaneous depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA-SQ) as a contactless form of contraception during the COVID-19 public health emergency. California pharmacists can prescribe DMPA-SQ under statewide protocol upon completing the required training program and obtain payment for the visit for Medi-Cal patients.

As of April 9, 2020, California’s Medi-Cal, FamilyPACT, and managed Medi-Cal health plans are covering DMPA-SQ under pharmacy benefits.

To facilitate compliance with state and federal guidelines for sheltering in place and physical distancing, DHCS will temporarily allow for pharmacy dispensing of DMPA-SQ directly to patients for self-administration at home. This is in addition to current Medi-Cal policy that allows administration by a health care professional. Self-administration of DMPA-SQ would be at the option of the Medi-Cal recipient after individualized discussions and decision-making between the prescriber and the recipient. The prescribing provider is responsible for ensuring proper training of the recipient in administering the drug, potential side effects, and proper disposal of the pre-filled syringe.

The FamilyPACT system updates to allow for claim reimbursement of DMPA-SQ will not be implemented until May 15, 2020 for pharmacy dispensing, with a retro-effective date on or after April 9, 2020.  Pharmacies may re-process their denied claims after the implementation date and it should process successfully at that time. FamilyPACT always recommend that pharmacies validate eligibility, process the claim, get the denial, dispense the medication, and reprocess the claim after May 15 for payment. The reprocessed claim will show payment for the actual date of service as long as it is not before April 9.

Additionally, a reminder that a Medi-Cal beneficiary should not be required to pay for a covered medication until all avenues of successful processing have been explored and the department denies the service (for example the provider tries obtaining a TAR) and only if the patient requests to purchase the medication out of pocket. 

The full policy document is published on the COVID-19 webpage at: Direct-to-Patient Dispensing of Subcutaneous Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate – COVID-19 Emergency. This temporary policy change is effective immediately and remains in effect until further notice.

Clinical Considerations for Contraception During COVID: Patient Self-Administration

During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, patients may desire a contactless method of contraception. The subcutaneous (SQ) formulation of depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), Depo-SubQ Provera, is an important option to offer patients. This may be of particular interest among patients who currently come in to the pharmacy or go to a clinic for their intramuscular (IM) injection.

Formulation Differences

While patients are able to self-administer both subcutaneous and intramuscular injections for a variety of purposes (e.g., insulin, fertility medications), patients may prefer the SQ formulation of DMPA since it is associated with less pain and higher continuation rates than the IM formulation.

Differences between the two formulations are summarized in the table below.

Intramuscular (IM)Subcutaneous (SQ)
Dose150 mg104 mg
Duration13 weeks
(up to 15 weeks)
12-14 weeks
Generic AvailabilityYesNo
Cost at Pharmacy$70-100>$200

Another important consideration is insurance coverage of these products. Some health plans cover the IM formulation as a medical benefit but have not yet included it as a pharmacy benefit. Some health plans are now covering the SQ formulation as a pharmacy benefit due to COVID-19, while others cover it as a pharmacy benefit but require a prior authorization.

How to Initiate or Switch

There is no physical assessment or blood pressure measurement required for eligibility of DMPA.

If your patient is not currently using a method of hormonal contraception, they can begin using either the IM or SQ at any time during the menstrual cycle if it is reasonably certain that patient is not pregnant. A backup method of contraception should be used for 7 days.

If your patient is currently using IM DMPA, the SQ DMPA can be administered when she is due for her next injection. No backup contraception is needed.

If your patient is currently using any other hormonal contraception (i.e., progestin only-pill, hormonal IUD, combination hormonal pill, patch or ring) or a copper IUD, the DMPA should be administered 7 days before stopping the other method. No backup contraception is needed.

References

2020 CDC Update for Contraceptive Use in Women at High Risk for HIV

What is the significance?

Women who have unprotected sex or have multiple partners have not only an increased the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs also known as STDs) but also have a risk of pregnancy. Aside from condoms, other contraceptive methods do not protect against HIV and other STIs but can effectively prevent an unintended pregnancy with potential complications and perinatal transmission associated with HIV infection.  Based on the new 2019 recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC published updated guidelines to the 2016 U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria (US MEC) for Contraceptive Use regarding women at high risk for HIV infection in April 2020.

 

What changed?

The following updates were made to the US MEC for Contraceptive Use, 20161:

Women at high risk for HIV:

There are no restrictions for use (MEC Category 1) of all contraception methods, now including IUDs and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection. Previously, high risk for HIV was a condition for which copper-containing and progesterone-releasing IUD and DMPA use was MEC Category 2 (benefits generally outweigh the risks of the condition).

Women on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy:

The CDC has clarified that their recommendations for contraception in women taking nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) applies to all NRTI indications: prevention (PrEP) or treatment of HIV infection. Most contraceptive methods are MEC Category 1 except initiation of IUDs in women whose HIV viral loads are not controlled or are not ARV therapy due to the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease due to the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease with IUD insertion (MEC Category 2).

See Table 1 for a summary of recommendation changes.

 

Summary of Clinical Evidence

The US MEC recommendations are based on a review of clinical evidence, the WHO recommendations, and epidemiological information regarding unintended pregnancy, contraceptive use, HIV infection, and maternal morbidity and mortality in the US.2 In the previous 2017 US MEC update, intramuscular DMPA (DMPA-IM) use changed from a category 1 to a category 2 based on evidence of possible increased risk for HIV acquisition in women using DMPA who are already at high risk of infection.2,3 However, in August 2019, the WHO published the following updates regarding recommendations for contraceptive use in this population:

Women with high HIV risk are eligible to use all methods of contraception without restriction (category 1)4

    • All progestin-only methods, including progestin-only pills (POPs), intramuscular and subcutaneous DMPA, levonorgestrel (LNG) implants, and etonogestrel (ETG) implants
    • Copper and LNG intrauterine devices (IUDs)
    • All combined hormonal contraceptive methods, including combined oral contraceptives (COCs), combined contraceptive patches, and combined vaginal rings

These recommendations for this patient population have been made in light of the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) trial, which aimed to determine the risk of HIV incidence with the use of DMPA-IM, copper IUD, and LNG implant contraceptives. The randomized, multicenter, open-label trial included 7,839 non-pregnant, HIV-seronegative African females aged 16 to 35 years seeking effective contraception who were placed into 3 groups of contraceptive methods: DMPA-IM, copper IUD, and LNG implant.3 After 18 months, 397 HIV infections were observed: 36% in the DMPA-IM group, 35% in the copper IUD group, and 29% in the LNG implant group with no significant statistical differences between each method.3 Therefore, DMPA-IM copper IUD, or LNG implant use does not further increase the risk of getting HIV in patients already at high risk for HIV. In addition, patients younger than 25 years were associated with higher HIV incidence than those 25 years or older, and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) seropositive patients were associated with higher HIV incidence than those who were HSV-2 seronegative.3 However, age and HSV-2 status did not significantly alter the relationship between contraceptive use and HIV acquisition.3

Although the ECHO trial did not assess other hormonal methods (e.g., COCs, subcutaneous DMPA, hormonal IUDs), WHO also made their recommendations based on low/low-to-moderate quality studies or extrapolation from other studies indicating no increased risk for HIV acquisition with these methods.3,4 A consensus was also made that “no biological or clinical reasons” were evident “that a lower hormonal dose, different delivery mechanism, or different progestin” would affect HIV risk.”3

 

References

  1. Tepper NK, Curtis KM, Cox S, Whiteman MK. Update to U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016: Updated Recommendations for the Use of Contraception Among Women at High Risk for HIV Infection. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:405–410. Available from:http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6914a3
  2. Tepper NK, Krashin JW, Curtis KM, et al. “Update to CDC’s U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016: Revised Recommendations for the Use of Hormonal Contraception Among Women at High Risk for HIV Infection.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(37):990-994.
  3. Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) Trial Consortium. HIV incidence among women using intramuscular depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, a copper intrauterine device, or a levonorgestrel implant for contraception: a randomised, multicentre, open-label trial. Lancet. 2019;394(10195):303-313.
  4. Contraceptive eligibility for women at high risk of HIV. Guidance statement: recommendations on contraceptive methods used by women at high risk of HIV. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Marjorie Valdez Student PharmacistAbout the Authors

Marjorie Valdez is a fourth-year pharmacy student at the UC San Diego School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Cydnee Ng, PharmD completed her pharmacy training at UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2019. She is currently a community pharmacist at Walgreens in the San Francisco Bay Area.