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Going Over the Counter? Legislators to Debate Future of the Pill

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"The pill should have done that a long time ago," Grimes tells WebMD. The pill can help prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse by taking large doses.

But the lack of a sponsor may keep the FDA from ever making a final decision on this matter. In order for the FDA to make a decision of whether or not the pill should be available without a prescription, an organization, such as a drug company, must ask the FDA to do so. The problem is that the manufacturers of the pill have yet to take a position on the matter.

"We don't have a policy with regards to the pill," Mark Munso, a spokesman for drug manufacturer Ortho-McNeil, tells WebMD, in an answer that is reminiscent of other pill makers' present stance.

There also may be lack of support from the medical community and an outcry from doctors is very possible. A number of physicians rely on the required office visits to offer regular preventive health care to women such as Pap smears and breast exams, and they legitimately could argue that the visits are of benefit.

"It is discriminatory, degrading, and paternalistic," says Grimes, explaining that doctors should not be able to withhold the pill just to get women into the office.

But even Grimes and Hatcher reluctantly agree that it would be preferable for women to get their initial prescription from a doctor, although both say that this should not be a barrier to switching the pill from a prescription drug to an over-the-counter drug.

There is no question that the pill should be available for emergency contraception, says Larry Sasich, PharmD, MPH, a spokesman for the watchdog group Public Citizen, which closely monitors FDA actions on behalf of consumers. And although the group would not support the switch to over the counter for a whole class of drugs, it would support the switch of individual products if the data merited it, he says.

Vital Information:

  • The FDA has scheduled a meeting in late June to discuss whether birth control pills, among other medications, should be available over the counter.
  • The pill has several health benefits, but its risks have not yet fully been determined.
  • Over-the-counter status also would make the pill available for emergency contraception.
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