Pharmacists in the community setting may soon have the opportunity to ease access to medication abortion in the United States. In the coming months, mifepristone (Mifeprex) is anticipated to have an updated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Program that allows dispensing through local brick-and-mortar and mail-order pharmacies. This change will integrate pharmacists into abortion care and bring them to the forefront of the national discussion about reproductive rights. Staying up to date on new regulations and their legal implications is paramount for successfully navigating this new role pharmacists can play in reproductive health and providing the best patient care.
Mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol (Cytotec) are used together for medication abortion, or drug-induced interuterine pregnancy termination. Since 2000, this medication combination has provided pregnant patients with a safe, noninvasive means to end an unwanted but otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy. Patients first take mifepristone, followed by misoprostol in 24 to 48 hours. While misoprostol is dispensed at the prescriber’s office or a local pharmacy, there have historically been strict dispensing regulations on mifepristone.
In order to access medication abortion, patients must first make an appointment with a reproductive healthcare provider to ensure that there are no contraindications to this method of pregnancy termination. Prior to the coronavirus-19 pandemic, the prescriber of mifepristone was the only individual allowed to dispense this medication. Patients were required to be physically present with the prescriber to obtain mifepristone. Appointments to receive this medication often occur after the initial pregnancy screenings, and barriers to abortion such as intimidation by protestors and geographical proximity to clinics severely limited patient access to this service.
During the coronavirus pandemic, enforcement of the in-person dispensing requirement has been relaxed with the condition that adherence to all other requirements included in the Patient Agreement Form be maintained, allowing for the utilization of mail to dispense mifepristone, either mailed to the patient from the clinic or a partner mail-order pharmacy. This temporary change has not only allowed greater access to medication abortion, but has led to increased calls for the permanent modification of the REMS Program associated with mifepristone.
More information on medication abortion can be found here.
Forthcoming FDA Update to the Mifepristone REMS Program
The success of the pandemic-spurred dispense by mail model emboldened advocacy for adjusting the provisions associated with mifepristone. Though no formal announcement was made, the FDA’s question and answer webpage on mifepristone was updated on December 16, 2021 to include upcoming changes. After a comprehensive review of the safety data collected through mifepristone’s REMS Program, the FDA indicated that an updated REMS is appropriate and should include pharmacy dispensing of this medication.
While this change brings a groundbreaking transformation to safe abortion access in the United States, there are limitations on its timely implementation into pharmacy practice. Customary with the FDA’s policies for updating REMS requirements, REMS modification notification letters have been sent to the manufacturers of Mifeprex and generic mifepristone. The manufacturers, Danco Laboratories and GenBioPro, will draft an updated REMS Program and submit it to the FDA for approval. Once approved, the modifications to the REMS Program will be in effect. Pharmacies will need to be certified to dispense mifepristone.
This change will only affect the dispensing aspect of mifepristone use. The requirements associated with the safe prescribing of this medication will likely remain the same.
How to Prepare for Changes to Pharmacy Practice
Though the details of the updated REMS Program are not yet public, there are steps that pharmacists can take in order to prepare for this change.
- Become familiar with the websites for Mifeprex and mifepristone from Danco Laboratories and GenBioPro. The current process for prescribers to certify to prescribe and dispense this product, the Prescriber Agreement Form, is relatively straightforward. It is likely that the certification process for pharmacies will be similar.
- Complete a continuing pharmacy education program on medication abortion to get acquainted with the adverse events, contraindications, counseling points, and follow up requirements associated with mifepristone and misoprostol.
- Develop pharmacy policies regarding the dispensing of this medication. If a pharmacist on staff is not willing to verify and dispense a mifepristone prescription, there should be reasonable alternatives in place to ensure patient access to this medication.
- Identify local resources for patients. In states where abortion restrictions are in place, it is incredibly important to stay up to date on the options that patients have for safe and effective reproductive care.
Pharmacists have been and continue to be the most accessible healthcare providers to patients. With the upcoming modification to mifepristone’s REMS Program, pharmacists can play a larger role in patients’ reproductive health. Commitment to lifelong learning is an essential component of effective pharmacy practice. Regardless of personal beliefs, we as healthcare providers have a responsibility to practice in an educated way that is respectful of our patients’ autonomy and right to care within the law.
About the Author
Jacqueline Muscat is a pharmacy student in the Class of 2023 at University of Michigan College of Pharmacy.