Norplant Shipments Halted as Firm Addresses Shelf-Life Concerns
But other reproductive health advocates are more alarmed. "If you've gone through the trouble of having it implanted, it might be discomfiting to know it may not be effective," Amy Allina, program director for the National Women's Health Network, tells WebMD. "Removal is not a simple procedure for many women, who've had it thinking that it will last for five years."
Planned Parenthood affiliates perform about 9,000 Norplant implants a year, Thomsen says, but the federation doesn't yet know how many of its patients got implants from the questionable lots.
Thomsen says she is concerned that shipments have been suspended, since "long-term birth control methods are sorely needed." Other popular long-term, reversible methods include the intrauterine device (IUD) and the hormone injection Depo-Provera.
Norplant is highly effective as a contraceptive, with results comparable to having one's tubes tied. It works for five years once it is surgically implanted in a woman's upper arm. The implant itself involves six plastic tubes, each about the size of a cardboard matchstick. Each tube releases a hormone called levonorgestrel, which is similar to the progesterone made by a woman's ovaries.
According to Planned Parenthood, Norplant costs between $500 and $750, which can include the medical exam, a pregnancy test, the implants, and the insertion. There is an additional fee of $100 to $200 to remove Norplant.
After it came onto the market, Norplant became the target of lawsuits filed by thousands of women who said the company had downplayed the product's side effects. Last year, Wyeth-Ayerst announced a settlement, covering more than 36,000 women, that comes to about $1,500 per person. The company has denied any wrongdoing.