Colorado is Third State Allowing Pharmacists to Prescribe Birth Control

More good news about access to birth control is coming from the state level. Colorado has passed legislation authorizing pharmacists to prescribe birth control after obtaining additional training. They are the third state to follow California and Oregon with this statewide authority specific to birth control. There is a task force that is charged with implementing the new protocol in the coming months.

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Pharmacist Protocols

All state protocols to date require pharmacist training and patient screening with a questionnaire and blood pressure measurement. Colorado’s legislation most closely resembles Oregon’s in allowing initiation of birth control pills and patch to adult women for up to three years until she sees a physician. California’s protocol is more comprehensive in allowing initiation of birth control ring and injection as well, in addition to serving female patients of all ages without a duration limit.

Public Health Impact

In 2010, 45% of all pregnancies (43,000) in Colorado were unintended. This expanded pharmacist scope is great news for women in Colorado and affords them more choices in access points for birth control. Colorado pharmacists are also looking forward to providing this important public health service to their patients.

It is yet to be determined what types of patients utilize this service when offered by pharmacists. The service became available at participating pharmacies as of January 2016 in Oregon and April 2016 in California.

Colorado has had great success with other initiatives to address unintended pregnancies. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants at low or no cost to low-income women. This contributed to a 40% drop in the teen birth rate from 2009 through 2013. This project is among others in demonstrating that when cost and access barriers to long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods such as IUDs and implants are removed, women are likely to choose these more effective methods. By 2019, Colorado aims to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate to 30% or less as one of their “Winnable Battles.”

Safety

There have been concerns about the safety of providing hormonal contraception without physical exams and pap smears. Though hormonal contraceptives are not without risks, these are generally outweighed by the benefits and considered safe for most women. A pelvic examination and a pap smear are not necessary to initiate hormonal birth control.  They are important for other health reasons.  Women will need to complete a health history questionnaire and have their blood pressure taken at the pharmacy.  The pharmacist will use this information to determine which methods of birth control are safe.

This is another step forward in increasing access to birth control.  Hopefully more states will pass similar laws expanding access with pharmacist prescribing.

There is also growing support for over-the-counter birth control pills. That differs from pharmacist prescribing because consultation with a pharmacist would no longer be required.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.

An OTC Birth Control Pill Could Become a Reality

over-the-counter-birth-control-pillsAn over-the-counter (OTC) birth control pill is finally on the horizon. HRA Pharma, a French pharmaceutical company, has recently formed a partnership with the nonprofit research organization Ibis Reproductive Health to conduct the research needed to prepare and submit a new drug application for an OTC progestin-only pill to the FDA. While the approval may be several years away, at least we are on the way. More than 70% of women support OTC access to birth control.1

This is an exciting prospect that could make birth control pills more widely available and easier for people to access and use. Ultimately, it may make a dent in our high rate of unintended pregnancies (45% of all pregnancies in the United States).2

All birth control pills – combined and progestin-only – are currently available by prescription only. Some states, such as California and Oregon, have enacted state laws allowing pharmacists to prescribe hormonal birth control. The more resources and options people have to obtain their birth control, the more likely they are to use it to effectively control if and when they have a pregnancy.

The birth control options currently available OTC are spermicides, condoms, and levonorgestrel emergency contraception. Progestin-only pills are much more effective at preventing pregnancy than any of these other methods. The pill—including progestin-only and combined—is one of the most effective birth control methods available. Both pill types are about 99% effective when used exactly as directed and 91% effective with typical use.3 Progestin- only pills have about the same effectiveness as combination estrogen and progestin pills, rings, and patches.

While combined hormonal birth control pills are generally more popular, the estrogen component results in some serious contraindications and precautions.3 Women with high blood pressure, migraines with aura, and other medical conditions should be avoiding estrogen. On the other hand, the progestin-only pill does not have the same concerns and can be safely used by most women. An OTC progestin-only pill is expected to follow in the footsteps of levonorgestrel – a progestin-only emergency contraceptive pill.

Many professional medical associations have expressed support for OTC birth control pills, including the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy Women’s Health Practice and Research Network.4-7 It’s even a bipartisan issue, although there are disagreements on who should pay for an OTC birth control pill among different political parties.

Pharmacists and other providers have expressed concerns about expanding access to birth control and how that might impact other necessary health services.8,9 We must trust women to continue to seek and obtain related preventive health care and health maintenance from their primary care physicians, obstetricians/gynecologists, or other health care providers. There is no evidence to suggest that birth control pills should be held hostage to make women go to the doctor. Pap smears and other preventive health care procedures are important, and access to birth control pills is important, but the 2 are independents and do not need to be linked.3

For more information, see the Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter (OCs OTC) Working Group websites: http://ocsotc.org/ and http://freethepill.org/.

References:

  1. Grossman D, Grindlay K, Li R, Potter JE, et al. Interest in over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives among women in the United States. Contraception. 2013;88(4):544-52.
  2. Finer LB, Zolna MR. Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. N Engl J Med. 2016; 374(9): 843-52
  3. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US selected practice recommendations for contraceptive use, 2016. MMWR. 2016;65(4):1-66.
  4. American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Resolution No 501: Endorse access without age restriction to over-the-counter oral contraceptive pills. April 2016.
  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion No 615: Access to contraception. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2015; 125(1):250–5.
  6. American Medical Association Resolution D-75.995 (Sub. Res. 507, A-13): Over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives. American Medical Association. 2013.
  7. McIntosh J, Rafie S, Wasik M, McBane S, Lodise NM, El-Ibiary SY, et al. Changing oral contraceptives from prescription to over-the-counter status: An opinion statement of the Women’s Health Practice and Research Network of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. Pharmacotherapy. 2011;31(4):424-37.
  8. Rafie S, Kelly S, Gray EK, et al. Provider opinions regarding expanding access to hormonal contraception in pharmacies. Womens Health Issues. 2016;26(2):153-60.
  9. Rafie S, Haycock M, Rafie S, Yen S, Harper CC. Direct pharmacy access to hormonal contraception: California physician and advanced practice clinician views. Contraception. 2012;86(6):687-93.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.