Levonorgestrel Intrauterine Device for Emergency Contraception

Levonorgestrel IUD for EC

A New Emergency Contraception Option

A recent study set out to assess the one-month pregnancy risk with the levonorgestrel 52-mg intrauterine device (IUD, Liletta®) as compared with the copper IUD (Paragard®) for emergency contraception (EC). The study included adults up to 35 years old who requested EC after unprotected sexual intercourse. Unprotected sexual intercourse must have occurred within the previous five days, but participants were not excluded if unprotected sexual intercourse also occurred up to 14 days prior. Participants were instructed to follow-up one month after IUD insertion for a urine pregnancy test, but even if they did not follow-up, their medical records for the following six months were reviewed to verify if a pregnancy was ever detected.1

 

Why the Levonorgestrel IUD?

Although not currently approved by the FDA for EC, the copper IUD, has substantial evidence supporting its use for EC. The failure rate of the copper IUD as EC is much lower than that of oral EC options.2-4 However, when compared to the copper IUD, the levonorgestrel IUD is more popular for long-term contraception, likely due to its other benefits, including decreased menstrual bleeding and pain.5-7

 

Failure Rates and Adverse Events

Of 638 total participants who received an IUD, only one patient experienced an EC failure. The patient had received a levonorgestrel IUD and the pregnancy ended in a spontaneous abortion at ten weeks with the IUD still in place. Statistical analysis of the data showed that the levonorgestrel 52-mg IUD was non-inferior to the copper IUD as EC. Rates of adverse events that required medical attention during the first month of IUD use were similar among both groups and very low overall.1

 

What Does This Mean for Patients?

This evidence means there is a new highly effective option for patients seeking EC and ongoing long-term contraception within five days of unprotected sexual intercourse. Although Liletta® was the levonorgestrel IUD used in this study, Mirena® is another levonorgestrel 52-mg IUD that releases the same daily dose of levonorgestrel. Other levonorgestrel IUDs release varying amounts of levonorgestrel, so we cannot necessarily expand these results to other options at this time. It is also possible the levonorgestrel IUD could be effective in preventing pregnancy when used up to 14 days after unprotected sexual intercourse, but more research is needed in this patient population.1

 

What Does This Mean for Pharmacists?

Pharmacists should be aware of this new option when counseling and referring patients who request EC after unprotected sexual intercourse. Of course, pharmacists should also know when it would be appropriate to utilize other EC options and if their state allows them to prescribe oral EC.

 

For more information: 

References

  1. Turok DK, Gero A, Simmons RG, et al. Levonorgestrel vs. copper intrauterine devices for emergency contraception. N Engl J Med. 2021; 384:335-44.
  2. Cleland K, Zhu H, Goldstuck N, et al. The efficacy of intrauterine devices for emergency contraception: a systematic review of 35 years of experience. Hum Reprod. 2012; 27:1994-2000.
  3. Glasier AF, Cameron ST, Fine PM, et al. Ulipristal acetate versus levonorgestrel for emergency contraception: a randomized non-inferiority trial and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2010; 375:555-62.
  4. von Hertzen H, Piaggio G, Ding J, et al. Low dose mifepristone and two regimens of levonorgestrel for emergency contraception: a WHO multicenter randomized trial. Lancet. 2002; 360:1803-10.
  5. Diedrich JT, Desai S, Zhao Q, et al. Association of short-term bleeding and cramping patterns with long-acting reversible contraceptive method satisfaction. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2015; 212:50-8.
  6. Sanders JN, Myers K, Gawron LM, et al. Contraceptive method use during the community wide HER Salt Lake contraceptive initiative. Am J Public Health. 2018; 108:550-6.
  7. Peipert JF, Zhao Q, Allsworth JE, et al. Continuation and satisfaction of reversible contraception. Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 117:1105-13.


About the AuthorKatie Hood

Katie Hood, PharmD Candidate is a pharmacy student in the Class of 2021 at Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Katie completed an elective APPE rotation with Birth Control Pharmacist.

Outreach Initiative to Expand Access to Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DMPA)

DMPA Outreach Study Infographic

Why Expand Access to DMPA

The novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) presented many downstream challenges in healthcare throughout 2020. An area of particular interest was the impact COVID-19 had on access to hormonal contraception, specifically DMPA intramuscular (DMPA-IM). Prior to the pandemic, patients who used DMPA-IM would attend approximately four clinic visits per year (every 12 weeks) to obtain their injection from a medical professional.

As public health risks continued to be a primary concern and shelter-in-place orders were issued, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued waivers under section 1135 of the Social Security Act, which permitted state governments to adjust their public health responses to the pandemic as they deemed fit. One way Medi-Cal used this waiver was to cover self-administered DMPA subcutaneous (DMPA-SC) without a prior authorization so patients could continue using their preferred method of hormonal contraception while decreasing exposure to COVID-19 until further notice.

Our study explored interest in at-home, self-administered DMPA-SC among patients who had been on DMPA-IM at an urban, hospital-based safety-net primary care clinic in San Francisco. 

Approach to Patient Outreach 

Our team consisted of medical and pharmacy students, pharmacists, and medical doctors. We identified patients who had been on DMPA-IM within the last nine months (August 2019-May 2020) by searching the clinic’s electronic medical records. Through this process, we identified 90 patients and successfully reached 70 patients (78%) by telephone. Our patients were all on Medi-Cal or Family PACT. Additionally, our patient base was largely non-English speaking, so interpretative services were utilized for effective, patient-preferred communication. Once each patient’s identity was confirmed, we explained self-administered DMPA-SC and answered any questions posed by the patient. If the patient expressed interest in DMPA-SC, we ordered a prescription to their community pharmacy and offered telehealth appointments to answer any further questions, demonstrate how to self-inject, and/or observe the patient as they self-administered. Of the 70 patients reached, 26 patients (37%) were interested in learning more about DMPA-SC. By the end of our study, 15 patients (21%) successfully self-administered DMPA-SC or had a family member or friend do it for them.  

Clinical Implications

Feedback received from patients previously utilizing DMPA-IM suggests at-home administration of DMPA-SC is a viable option when selecting a hormonal contraceptive. By continuing to advocate for at-home administration, the medical community can help expand access to hormonal contraception for all patients.  

 

Check out the full study here

References

  1. Depo-SubQ Provera 104 prescribing information. Pfizer, December 2020. Link. Accessed February 25, 2021. 
  2. Katz M, Newmark RL, Aronstam A, O’Grady N, Strome S, Rafie S, et al. An implementation project to expand access to self-administered depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA). Contraception. 2020;102(6):392-5. DOI

Birth Control Pharmacist Sara Strome Headshot
About the Author

Sara Strome, PharmD Candidate is a pharmacy student in the Class of 2022 at the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy.

Meet Phexxi – A New Non-Hormonal Contraceptive Gel

Image from https://hcp-phexxi.com

About the Product

Lactic acid, citric acid, and potassium bitartrate (Phexxi, Evofem Biosciences) is a prescription combination, non-hormonal contraceptive gel approved by the FDA in May 2020. The vaginal gel was found to be 86.3% effective with typical use when inserted up to 1 hour before vaginal intercourse.1

The gel acts as a contraceptive by maintaining the vaginal pH within its normal range of 3.5 to 4.5, an environment too acidic for sperm to survive. This pH regulating mechanism decreases sperm viability and supports bacteria integral to the vaginal microbiome.1

The gel is supplied in a package of twelve, single dose (5 grams), pre-filled applicators with an attachable plunger. The applicator should be inserted into the vagina immediately before or up to 1 hour before vaginal intercourse, with a new dose needing to be administered prior to each act of intercourse.2

What Patients Can Expect

The most common adverse events (AEs) were vulvovaginal burning (20%) and vulvovaginal itching (11.2%). Of local AEs, 23.9% were mild, 18.7% were moderate, and 2.3% were severe. Rates of these reactions mostly decreased over time.1

Women with a history of recurrent urinary tract infections or urinary tract abnormalities should not use the gel due to the 0.36% incidence of cystitis or pyelonephritis in clinical trials.2

Male partners of women using the gel might also experience local AEs such as burning, itching, and pain. However, the local AEs experienced by male partners were generally mild (74.7%), while 21.4% were moderate and 3.9% were severe.2

Offering This New Option to Patients

The contraceptive gel is an option for women who are seeking a non-hormonal or on-demand method of birth control. Women preferring to use multiple methods of contraception can combine the gel with diaphragms and latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene condoms. However, it should not be used with vaginal rings.2

Spermicide is also available as a vaginal gel, but it is only about 72% effective with typical use.3 Like the non-hormonal contraceptive gel, it can be used on-demand. Nonoxynol-9, the active ingredient in most spermicides, can cause vaginal irritation and increase the risk of HIV transmission.4 In a clinical trial comparing nonoxynol-9 to the , incidences of vulvovaginal itching, burning, and irritation were similar, with the non-hormonal contraceptive gel having a slightly higher incidence of vulvovaginal burning.5

The contraceptive gel’s novel pH modulating mechanism is currently being studied for prevention of gonorrhea and chlamydia in the phase 2B clinical trial AMPREVENCE. Preliminary results from the 4-month study period showed a 50% relative risk reduction of chlamydia and a 78% relative risk reduction of gonorrhea. The clinical trial will move on to phase 3 later in 2020.6

Although the gel will be available as a prescription only treatment in September 2020, patients may face barriers to accessing the gel during COVID-19. Evofem Biosciences plans to launch a telemedicine program to support patient and provider access to the contraceptive gel.7 Additionally, barriers to contraception access could be further mitigated by enabling pharmacists to prescribe birth control.

REFERENCES

  1. Thomas MA, Chappel BT, Maximos B, Culwell KR, Dart C, Howard B. A novel vaginal pH regulator: results from the phase 3 AMPOWER contraception clinical trial. Contraception: X.2020; vol. 2 100031.
  2. Phexxi. Prescribing information. Evofem Biosciences; 2020. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2020/208352s000lbl.pdf. Accessed June 17, 2020.
  3. HHS. Spermicide. https://www.hhs.gov/opa/pregnancy-prevention/birth-control-methods/spermicide/index.html. Accessed June 17, 2020.
  4. FDA. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21; April 1, 2019. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=201.325. Accessed August 3, 2020.
  5. Study of Contraceptive Efficacy & Safety of Phexxi™ (Previously Known as Amphora) Gel Compared to Conceptrol Vaginal Gel; March 11, 2020. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/results/NCT01306331. Accessed August 30, 2020.
  6. Evofem Biosciences Reports Positive Top-Line Results from Phase 2b Study of Amphora® for Prevention of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea in Women. Evofem Biosciences; December 2, 2020. https://evofem.investorroom.com/2019-12-02-Evofem-Biosciences-Reports-Positive-Top-Line-Results-from-Phase-2b-Study-of-Amphora-R-for-Prevention-of-Chlamydia-and-Gonorrhea-in-Women. Accessed August 3, 2020.
  7. U.S. FDA Approves Evofem Biosciences’ Phexxi™ (lactic acid, citric acid and potassium bitartrate), the First and Only Non-Hormonal Prescription Gel for the Prevention of Pregnancy. Evofem Biosciences; May 22, 2020. https://evofem.investorroom.com/2020-05-22-U-S-FDA-Approves-Evofem-Biosciences-Phexxi-TM-lactic-acid-citric-acid-and-potassium-bitartrate-the-First-and-Only-Non-Hormonal-Prescription-Gel-for-the-Prevention-of-Pregnancy. Accessed August 3, 2020.

About the Author

This article was co-written by Whitney Russell, a student pharmacist at University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.

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

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

Contraception for Your Transgender Patients

Terminology

Navigating through a discussion about gender and sexuality with the many terms used today can be confusing. Here is a brief introduction to terminology regarding the multifaceted gender spectrum.1

  • Cisgender: Gender identity matches assigned gender at birth2
  • Transgender: Gender identity differs from assigned gender at birth2
  • Gender nonbinary/queer/fluid: Individuals do not identify with a male-female binary and may have a fluid, multifaceted gender identity2

Now let’s review contraception for transgender patients…with a focus on transgender men (male gender identity and female assigned gender at birth)…

Considerations for contraception care

Gender affirmation therapy does not take the place of contraception.

Each patient may prefer different gender affirmation methods, which may affect their contraceptive needs.Methods include hormone therapy with testosterone, surgery, or no intervention. For patients undergoing testosterone therapy or no intervention who desire contraception, an additional contraceptive method becomes necessary. On the other hand, patients who undergo reaffirming surgery may or may not need additional contraception to reduce risk of pregnancy, depending on the extent of surgery performed.

 

There are knowledge gaps around fertility and contraceptive needs amongst transgender patients and their providers.

Some transgender men and providers have a lack of knowledge regarding their reproductive potential and risk of pregnancy if sexually active with a capable partner.3 Misperceptions include testosterone as effective contraception (may decrease fertility, but does not eliminate pregnancy risk) and midlife patients as infertile (presumed menopausal).3,4,5

 A transgender man has reproductive potential if they have an intact uterus and ovaries and until menopause or surgical sterilization.3 In addition, testosterone use may not completely suppress ovarian function, causing irregular or suppressed periods, which should not be confused with perimenopause in midlife patients.3,5 It is important to note there is still a risk of pregnancy despite a lack of menstruation. In a study of 41 transgender men who had been pregnant and given birth, one-third of pregnancies were unintended.Contraception use prior to pregnancy was lower in patients who used testosterone compared to those who did not.6 Use of a contraceptive is still necessary even with testosterone therapy.

 

Transgender patients have barriers to care that may prevent provision of adequate sexual and contraceptive care

Examples of barriers include stigmatization and feeling unsafe in health care settings.Health care teams should provide a supportive, open, and safe environment for transgender patients by accepting their gender identity and sexual orientation and using their preferred name and pronouns. Providers should ask if patients have an intact uterus and ovaries, are sexually active with a partner that may result in pregnancy, have a history of sexual violence, are at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and use gender affirmation methods.3

 

There is a lack of research on pregnancy risk and fertility in transgender patients, and consequently, contraceptive guidelines for this patient population.3

 

Contraception for transgender men

All transgender men with reproductive potential should be offered contraception.5 Patients should decide which contraceptive they prefer to use, if any. 

 

Reversible contraceptives

Reversible methods are most appropriate for patients who have not decided or do not want to make long-term or irreversible decisions regarding their reproductive potential.3

 

Progestin-only contraceptives

Progestin-only methods do not interfere with testosterone use. Regardless of testosterone use, patients who continue to have menstrual cycles may prefer this method due to high rates of amenorrhea and potential for masculinizing effects (e.g., increased hair growth).5,7

Traditional progestin-only pills (POP) containing norethindrone have a risk of low patient adherence due to its strict 3-hour window, which by missing correct timing of doses, may compromise contraceptive efficacy.However, the new POP, Slynd, allows for a 24-hour missed pill window.9 Irregular bleeding may occur, which patients may want to avoid.8

For patients seeking longer acting methods, the progestin-only injectable and long-acting reversible contraceptive devices — implant and IUDs — may be more convenient and have higher rates of amenorrhea.

 

Combination hormonal contraceptives

There is a lack of evidence regarding combined hormonal contraceptives including pills, patches, and vaginal rings) for transgender men as the estrogen may or may not interfere with testosterone therapy. At this time, there are no contraindications to concurrent use.5 Though patients can choose combination hormonal contraceptives, some may not prefer this method due to concerns about having estrogen in their system and the potential for female traits to appear.5,10 Other available and acceptable methods should be considered before considering combination hormonal contraceptives.5

 

Nonhormonal contraceptives

Although the copper IUD does not interfere with testosterone, there is a risk of increasing any existing menstrual bleeding.5 Patients with an intact uterus who want to avoid both progestins and estrogens and who are already amenorrheic may prefer this method.5

The contraceptive effectiveness of external and internal condoms is lower than hormonal methods and LARCs, however they are essential to prevent HIV and other STDs.3

Permanent surgical options are available for patients who do not want to get pregnant at all.3,7

 

Contraceptives for transgender women

For patients with a female gender identity and male sex assigned at birth taking estrogen, condoms may be used as well as permanent options, including orchiectomy (removal of testicles) and vasectomy (blockage of vas deferens tubes, preventing sperm from reaching testicles).7

 

For more information regarding transgender care and terminology, please visit the UCSF Transgender Care Navigation Program website at transcare.ucsf.edu/guidelines.

 

References

  1. Justice for Sisters. “Update: Gender Bear Now in BM, Chinese Language & English.” Accessed on September 5, 2019. Available at: https://justiceforsisters.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/updated-gender-bear-in-bm-chinese-language-english/.
  2. UCSF Transgender Care Navigation Program. “Terminology and definitions.” UCSF Transgender Care Navigation Program. June 17, 2016. Accessed on September 11, 2019. Available at: https://transcare.ucsf.edu/guidelines/terminology.
  3. Francis A, Jasani S, Bachmann G. Contraceptive challenges and the transgender individual. Womens Midlife Health. 2018;4:12.
  4. Amato P. “Fertility options for transgender persons.” UCSF Transgender Care Navigation Program. June 17, 2016. Accessed on September 11, 2019. Available at: https://transcare.ucsf.edu/guidelines/fertility.
  5. Boudreau D, Mukerjee R. Contraception care for transmasculine individuals on testosterone therapy. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2019;64(4):395-402.
  6. Light AD, Obedin-Maliver J, Sevelius JM, Kerns JL. Transgender men who experienced pregnancy after female-to-male gender transitioning. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(6):1120-1127.
  7. Shah M. “Birth control across the gender spectrum.” Bedsider. 2017. Accessed on September 11, 2019. Available at: https://www.bedsider.org/features/1070-birth-control-across-the-gender-spectrum.
  8. Jones K, Wood M, Stephens L. Contraception choices for transgender males. J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care. 2017;43(3):239-240.
  9. Exeltis USA, Inc. “Exeltis USA, Inc. announces the approval of Slynd, the first and only progestin-only pill providing pregnancy prevention with a 24/4 dosing regimen and 24-hour missed pill window.” Exeltis USA, Inc. June 6, 2019. Accessed on November 19, 2019. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/exeltis-usa-inc-announces-the-approval-of-slynd-the-first-and-only-progestin-only-pill-providing-pregnancy-prevention-with-a-244-dosing-regimen-and-24-hour-missed-pill-window-300863390.html.
  10. Reproductive Health Access Project. “Birth control across the gender spectrum.” Reproductive Health Access Project. 2019. Accessed on September 11, 2019. Available at: https://www.reproductiveaccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/bc-across-gender-spectrum.pdf
  11.  

About the Author

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.

Twirla: A New Contraceptive Patch

What is Twirla?

Twirla is a new contraceptive patch designed for patients who want freedom from the daily pill without committing to a longer acting method. This transdermal patch delivers 120mcg of levonorgestrel and 30mcg of ethinyl estradiol through Agile’s Skinfusion® patch, which consists of five layers and serve as the reservoir for the active and inactive ingredients, as well as a barrier to prevent accumulation of debris from daily wear. Twirla is designed to be applied once weekly for three weeks, followed by one patch free week for menstruation.

Currently there is only one hormonal contraceptive patch available for consumer use called Xulane (norelgestromin 150mcg/ethinyl estradiol 35mcg). Women who use this patch have higher blood serum concentrations of estrogen compared to oral methods (AUC0-∞ 37.7±5.6 vs. 22.7±2.8), which is associated with health concerns such as increased risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs. Agile Therapeutics, the women’s healthcare company behind Twirla, saw an unmet need in the market for a low-dose hormonal contraceptive patch. This market gap lead to the development of their newly formulated contraceptive patch, Twirla.

 

What are the pros and cons of Twirla?

This patch provides another option for women who desire an alternative from a daily pill, without the constraints of a longer acting method. Twirla is applied once weekly, meaning women only have to remember their birth control about three times a month rather than every day. With various daily activities and responsibilities, a weekly patch liberates women from one of those daily routines. There are other birth control options such as the Depo-Provera injection, IUDs, or implants that serve as alternatives to the pill but some women perceive these methods as more invasive compared to the patch. Additionally, given the lower dose of estrogen, Twirla appears to have a lower risk of blood clots as shown in comparator studies but remains equally effective in regulating menstrual cycles and preventing pregnancies as compared to the existing patch option.

Although the convenience of a patch is desirable, there are several noteworthy considerations with this product. As previously mentioned, Twirla’s formulation lowers the risk of blood clots, but there remains a risk of blood clots with hormonal patches compared to oral methods.  Additional side effects reported with Twirla include unscheduled vaginal bleeding, weight gain, headache, and abdominal cramps.  Women have also reported skin irritation when applying and removing the patch. Regarding size, Twirla is round and slightly larger (28cm2) than the Xulane (14 cm²) patch. Additionally, both Twirla and Xulane are currently only produced in one neutral shade of beige. For many women, this prevents the possibility of a discrete form of birth control which may make this a less desirable option.

 

Are there different considerations with a patch compared to other contraceptive methods?

Given the hormones in Twirla, the patch works just like the pill in terms of preventing pregnancy by delaying ovulation.  It can be applied on the upper arm, buttocks, back, or lower abdomen. The patch is designed to withstand activities such as exercising, swimming, showering, etc. If the patch does happen to fall off during the week, it can be reapplied or a new patch may be used in its place. If the patch has been off more than 24 hours, a back up method such as condoms should be used for the next seven days of the new patch cycle. Although it’s rare (<2% of the time), healthcare providers recommend daily checks to ensure the patch has not accidentally fallen off. Patches should not be worn longer than the week they are intended and consequences of doing so include bleeding, spotting, and increased risk for unintended pregnancy. If a patient is more than 48 hours late transitioning from the existing patch to a new patch, then a back up should be used for seven days. Like all other birth control methods, Twirla does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.

 

Is Twirla a good option for everyone?

There is no one-size fits all method that is right for all women. Some women might be at greater risk for adverse effects with the patch. Agile reported reduced efficacy in preventing pregnancy for women who weigh 202 pounds (92kg) or more, or who have a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater. As a result, the drug company initially issued a Limitation of Usestatement in their product labeling that documented this clinical outcome.  Since gaining FDA approval, this limitation has transitioned to a listed contraindication. Xulane’s package insert lists the same contraindication, yet is regularly prescribed in women with a BMI >30 kg/m2. Studies have shown that the decrease in efficacy does not preclude the use of these patches in obese women. To combat the associated risks, additional counseling to emphasize the importance of strict compliance with the patch for optimal protection is necessary. Studies have also shown an increased risk in blood clots in women who are overweight and those who smoke. Additional contraindications for using Twirla include women with a high risk of thrombotic disease, who experience migraine with aura, who have liver disease, or who have undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding.

 

Is Twirla available now?

Twirla was approved by the FDA earlier this month on February 14, 2020. As part of the approval process, the FDA is requiring Agile to conduct a long term, observational post-marketing study to further evaluate the risks of blood clots in new users of Twirla. With its recent approval, the manufacturer is now focusing their attention on commercializing Twirla for consumer use. They hope to complete the manufacturing process and expect to ship the initial product to wholesalers as early as the end of this year.

With patient needs and safety in mind, the approval of this medication further expands the range of contraceptive options available for women. Given that there have only been three non-daily combined hormonal contraceptive methods made available since 2001, this is a valuable and timely option for women who seek alternative methods.

References

  1. FDA Approves Agile Therapeutics, Inc.’s Twirla® (levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol) Transdermal System – A New Weekly Contraceptive Patch Delivering a 30 mcg Daily Dose of Estrogen and 120 mcg Daily Dose of Progestin. (2020, February 14). Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://ir.agiletherapeutics.com/news-releases/news-release-details/fda-approves-agile-therapeutics-incs-twirlar-levonorgestrel-and
  2. Efficacy, Safety and Tolerability Study of Agile AG200-15 Transdermal Contraceptive Delivery System – Full Text View. (2017, September 25). Retrieved from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02158572?term=AG200-15&draw=2&rank=1
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About the AuthorBirth Control Pharmacist Headshots

Savannah Gross is a third-year pharmacy student at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy. 

Article reviewed by Rebecca Stone, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP