The Food and Drug Administration is considering expanding the list of drugs that can be bought without a prescription and among the drugs could come under consideration: birth control pills.
At a hearing last week the agency discussed whether certain types of drugs that treat cholesterol, asthma, migraines should be sold over-the-counter, a regulatory change designed to lower costs and ease access to medications for those battling chronic ailments.
According to Eleanor Schwarz, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, women can determine whether they should use oral contraceptives and may be better off not seeing a physician. “It has been a politically charged topic,” said Schwarz, who addressed the FDA. “When we keep it within the purely health-and-science realm, we understand it saves people’s lives. All available contraceptives are much safer for women’s health than an undesired pregnancy.”
Schwarz led a team at the University of Pittsburgh that created a computer kiosk to help women determine if they should take birth-control pills or whether they smoked, had migraines with an aura or other conditions that may make taking the pills inadvisable.
The FDA has not taken a position on over-the-counter contraceptives on this particular issue but did last year approve Plan B as the first unrestricted over-the-counter emergency contraceptive. That decision was ultimately blocked by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. The decision was the first time HHS overrode an FDA determination.
Over-the-counter medicines save the U.S. health-care system $102 billion a year, and given the widespread use of prescription birth control pills, over the counter availability would really be remarkable.
Of course, making contraception available over-the-counter also alleviates the “religious liberty” concerns the right has raised about insurance covering contraception. Seems like a win-win to me.
Photo from nateOne via flickr.
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