Should birth control be available without a prescription?

KMVT

A few states are already doing it, now Maryland is making the move to provide birth control without a prescription.

So what does this mean for you?

For most women, the need for birth control keeps them on schedule for an annual visit with their physician, many times for a new prescription. But in some states - that’s changing.

“We know women’s lives are busy and physician offices are busy,” said Dr. Katy Pincus, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “Getting birth control without a prescription breaks down that barrier so there’s not an interruption in care when it’s needed.”

The Maryland General Assembly recently approved legislation allowing pharmacists to supply women with oral contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription.

Dr. Pincus, describes how the process will work beginning with a survey.

“Some sort of self evaluation form where she tells us about her past medical history where we ask specific questions about issues that would increase that risk,” Dr. Pincus said.

Following that, a one on one meeting with the pharmacist.

“They’ll discuss some options,” said Dr. Pincus. “You know, there are a lot of different kinds of birth control, they’ll discuss which one she prefers.”

In many cases, after that meeting women would get their birth control on the same day. Experts say that it is effective and most importantly, safe.

“Birth control pills are already effective and safe,” said Dr. Krishna Upadhya, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “They’ve already said that that’s true, because they’ve already approved these products. The real question is can they be used without a doctor telling them someone can use them.”

Dr. Upadhya recently completed a study supporting the idea that oral contraceptives could safely be sold to women and teenagers without a prescription.

The study has been used to back up those pushing for more access.

“There’s been a lot of interest in birth control pills over the counter for women because birth control pills are the most commonly used hormonal method of contraception in the U.S.,” Dr. Upadhya said.

Dr. Pincus says the move wouldn’t make birth control as easily available as over the counter drugs - she likes to call it ‘pharmacy prescribing and dispensing of contraceptives.

"It’s not like Tylenol,” Dr. Pincus said. “You don’t just pick it up and buy, you still need to talk to someone because we want to review and make sure this is a safe product to use.”

Overall, she says it gives pharmacists more reign and expands access for women’s care without raising the cost of birth control. As a pharmacist, she says, it’s an exciting time. “As providers, we’re able to help patients access the medicines they need and chose the right medications.”

While the the bill in Maryland is being signed into law, Pincus says women shouldn’t expect to be able to pick up their new prescription from a pharmacist until early 2019. And Pincus says it’s important to note, while this gives a bit more power to the pharmacists, women still need to see their gynecologists for other routine testing or family planning services.