On July 13, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to Opill, the first ever over-the-counter birth control pill. It’s expected to be available for purchase at most major pharmacies nationwide in early 2024.
Opill, manufactured by Perrigo Co., contains the hormone norgestrel. It is a progestin-only oral contraceptive that does not contain estrogen, according to the FDA. This is unlike most common oral contraceptives, which use both hormones to prevent pregnancy.
The 0.075-milligram norgestrel tablet was originally approved as a prescription birth control in 1973. Pfizer marketed it under the name Ovrette. However, it has been unavailable since 2005 due to the manufacturer’s decision to stop selling the pill for financial reasons.
The FDA explained that, if taken every day at the same time, “norgestrel tablets are highly effective in preventing pregnancy.” With perfect-use, “the effectiveness rate can be as high as 98%.”
Possible side effects of taking Opill include irregular bleeding, dizziness, nausea, headaches, increased appetite, abdominal pain and cramps or bloating. However, these symptoms, according to the FDA, are generally mild and frequently resolve on their own.
Medications for seizures, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or pulmonary hypertension can interact with norgestrel, potentially making it less effective. The same is true for ulipristal acetate, a morning-after pill, and supplements containing St. John’s Wort, a herbal ingredient.
Opill also shouldn’t be taken with other forms of birth control, such as IUDs, vaginal rings, patches, implants or injections. The FDA advises against taking Opill if you’ve had breast cancer in the past or if you’re currently pregnant or think you might be. It’s also not intended for male use.
The decision to have birth control pills available over-the-counter will dismantle obstacles that individuals may encounter with prescription methods, explained Natalee Cervantes, director of marketing and communication at Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU).
“Decades of evidence and experience show that birth control pills are safe, effective and appropriate, but prescriptions can be a chore,” said Cervantes. “[Over-the-counter birth control] means that Utahns can soon get birth control pills … with just one trip to the local pharmacy or store.”
According to Philip Howland, the medical clinic manager and doctor of nursing practice at Salt Lake Community College’s Center for Health and Counseling (CHC), the significance of sexual health cannot be overstated. He believes that, by removing barriers to contraceptive care, there will be a decrease in the number of unplanned pregnancies.
“Unplanned or unintended pregnancies can have increased health risks for both the mom and baby,” said Howland. “For example, if someone was not planning on getting pregnant, they may have behaviors such as drinking or smoking that are detrimental to the developing baby’s health … they may also have a delay in seeking care for the pregnancy.”
Cervantes added that PPAU celebrates the approval of Opill at a time when reproductive health and rights are under attack.
“[With the approval of Opill], the U.S. is joining more than 100 other countries that already provide birth control over-the-counter,” she said. “Birth control is essential health care, and we are thrilled to see the FDA follow the science.”
PPAU health centers currently offer a variety of birth control options, including pills, IUDs and vasectomies. Cervantes stated that they will consider adding Opill to their services once it becomes available next year.
In addition to the birth control options already available at PPAU health centers, Howland mentioned that students can also find most forms of contraception and STD testing at the CHC for little to no cost. Free condoms are also available outside all of their clinics, and at most events.
“We offer free emergency contraception to students [with Plan B] … most forms of contraception are available at the CHC, including the pill, patch, ring and depo shot,” said Howland. “We also offer HPV vaccinations, cervical cancer screening and STI testing for very low costs.”