Interest in over-the-counter oral contraceptive pills is strong, study finds

May 15, 2019

Blister pack of 28 pills

WASHINGTON, DC (January 30, 2018) — Improving access to contraception can help reduce the U.S.'s high rate of unintended pregnancies, and making oral contraceptives available without a prescription is one way to reduce barriers to contraceptive use. Progestin-only oral contraceptive pills (which do not contain the estrogen found in combined oral contraceptives) have few contraindications and are similar to emergency contraceptive pills already available over the counter, so they may be the first oral contraceptive to be approved for over-the-counter (OTC) sale in the U.S. The authors of a new study published today in Women's Health Issues surveyed teen girls and adult women about their likelihood of using an OTC progestin-only pill, and found that 39% of adults and 29% of teens were interested in it.

Women's Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

The study authors, Kate Grindlay of Ibis Reproductive Health and Daniel Grossman of the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a nationally representative survey with 2,026 women aged 18-44 who did not desire pregnancy at the time and 513 teen girls aged 15-17. They asked participants about how likely they were to use a progestin-only pill that would be available over the counter—that is, without talking to a doctor, pharmacist, or parent, although pharmacists would be able to answer questions—and how much they would be willing to pay for one month's supply.

Interest in using an OTC progestin-only pill was higher when the question specified that it would be covered by insurance: 46% of adult women were likely to use it (compared to 39% when insurance coverage was not specified) and 40% of teens (compared to 29%). The top reason cited among both adults and teens for interest in an over-the-counter birth control pill was to save time by not having an office visit. The highest monthly amount they were willing to pay was a median of $15 among adults and $10 among teens. 

"A multifaceted approach is needed to better meet people's reproductive health needs and over-the-counter (OTC) access to oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) may be an effective strategy," Grindlay and Grossman wrote. "These findings indicate a large pool of interested users and the potential for improving contraceptive access by making an OTC progestin-only pill available."

The study, "Interest in Over-the-Counter Access to a Progestin-Only Pill among Women in the United States," has been published online ahead of print and will appear in the March/April issue of Women's Health Issues.