September 2011

Over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives

Grossman D. Over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives. Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology. September 2011; 6(5): 501-508.

Oral contraceptives (OCs) are one of the safest and best-studied medicines on the market. Yet, in many countries, a prescription is required to obtain OCs, often creating an unnecessary barrier to accessing this highly effective contraceptive method. A growing body of evidence suggests that over-the-counter (OTC) access to OCs is both safe and effective, and that removing the prescription barrier may increase access and reduce unintended pregnancies. Surveys among US women indicate interest in obtaining OCs in pharmacies without a prescription, and research has shown that women are accurately able to identify most contraindications to use of OCs using simple tools such as checklists. Pharmacists also can help women to screen for contraindications and provide information about method use. However, in the USA, some women might lose insurance coverage of OCs if they became available OTC. OTC availability is a promising new provision model that could improve access to OCs and should be studied more rigorously.