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Review Finds That Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pills Would be Safe for Teens

Accepted submission by takyon at 2017-03-18 13:17:25
Science

A review has reiterated that oral contraception is safe and effective [npr.org] for adolescent females, and found that negative side effects are rarer among teens than adult users. The review also found no evidence linking the use of oral contraceptives to increased or riskier sex:

Nearly five years ago, the nation's leading group of obstetricians and gynecologists issued a policy statement saying the time had come for oral contraception to be available without a prescription. We wrote about it [npr.org] and everything.

In the intervening years, some states have changed their laws. California [ca.gov] authorized pharmacists to distribute most types of hormonal birth control. Oregon passed a similar law [state.or.us] covering both pills and patches. But neither law changed the status of birth control pills from prescription to over-the-counter. Only the Food and Drug Administration can do that. And in Oregon's case, the law does not apply to people of all ages. People under 18 are still required to get their first contraceptive prescription from a doctor.

But researchers say there is no evidence that adolescents are at greater risk from birth control pills than adult women. A review of oral contraceptive research [jahonline.org] [DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.12.024] [DX [doi.org]] presents the most comprehensive evidence yet that, as the authors state, "There is no scientific rationale for limiting access to a future over-the-counter oral contraceptive product by age."

"There is a growing body of evidence that the safety risks are low and benefits are large," says Krishna Upadhya [hopkinsmedicine.org], an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead author of the review, which was published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health. In fact, she says, some of the potential negative side effects of oral contraception are less likely in younger people. For example, birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin come with an increased risk of a type of blood clot called a venous thromboembolism, but that risk is lower in teenagers than in older women. As a result, the pill is "potentially safer the younger you are," says Upadhya.


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