A new American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) committee opinion addresses how contraception access can be improved through over-the-counter (OTC) hormonal contraception for people of all ages—including oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), progesterone-only pills, the patch, vaginal rings, and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA). Although ACOG endorses OTC contraception, some health care providers may be hesitant to support the increase in accessibility for a variety of reasons. We are hopeful that we address these concerns and that all clinicians can move to support ACOG’s position.
Easing access to hormonal contraception is a first step
OCPs are the most widely used contraception among teens and women of reproductive age in the United States.1 Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated health insurance coverage for contraception, many barriers continue to exist, including obtaining a prescription. Only 13 states have made it legal to obtain hormonal contraception through a pharmacist.2 There also has been an increase in the number of telemedicine and online services that deliver contraceptives to individuals’ homes. While these efforts have helped to decrease barriers to hormonal contraception access for some patients, they only reach a small segment of the population. As clinicians, we should strive to make contraception universally accessible and affordable to everyone who desires to use it. OTC provision can bring us closer to this goal.
Addressing the misconceptions about contraception
Adverse events with hormonal contraception are rarer than one may think. There are few risks associated with hormonal contraception. Venous thromboembolus (VTE) is a serious, although rare, adverse effect (AE) of hormonal contraception. The rate of VTE with combined oral contraception is estimated at 3 to 8 events per 10,000 patient-years, and VTE is even less common with progestin-only contraception (1 to 5 per 10,000 patient-years). For both types of hormonal contraception, the risk of VTE is smaller than with pregnancy, which is 5 to 20 per 10,000 patient-years.3 There are comorbidities that increase the risk of VTE and other AEs of hormonal contraception. In the setting of OTC hormonal contraception, individuals would self-screen for contraindications in order to reduce these complications.
Patients have the aptitude to self-screen for contraindications. Studies looking at the ability of patients over the age of 18 to self-screen for contraindications to hormonal contraception have found that patients do appropriately screen themselves. In fact, they are often more conservative than a physician in avoiding hormonal contraceptive methods.4 Patients younger than age 18 rarely have contraindications to hormonal contraception, but limited studies have shown that they too are able to successfully self-screen.5 ACOG recommends self-screening tools be provided with all OTC combined hormonal contraceptive methods to aid an individual’s contraceptive choice.
Most patients continue their well person care. Some opponents to ACOG’s position also have expressed concern that people who access their contraception OTC will forego their annual exam with their provider. However, studies have shown that the majority of people will continue to make their preventative health care visits.6,7