Experts urge over-the-counter contraceptives for teens, adults

Study shows teen birth rates in 2015 dropped to a historic low of 22.3 live births per 1,000 girls between age 15 and 19, which researchers say is linked easier access to contraceptives.

By Amy Wallace

March 14 (UPI) -- Researchers suggest oral contraceptives should be switched from prescription-only status to over-the-counter, or OTC, for teens and adults.

A research team led by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reviewed decades of published studies and found overwhelming evidence to support making oral contraceptives available over-the-counter instead of prescription only.


They reviewed teen-specific data on the safety and efficacy of oral contraceptives, pregnancy risk associated with use of various forms of contraception, the ability of teens to use contraceptives correctly, the impact of over-the-counter access on sexual behavior and concerns it may reduce clinician consultations.

"Decades of research show that a majority of adolescents initiate sex before the age of 18 and that earlier use of contraception reduces the risk of teen pregnancy," Dr. Krishna Upadhya, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, said in a press release. "Our review strongly suggests that giving teens easier access to various contraceptives will not lead to more sex but would result in fewer unwanted pregnancies."

According to the 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth, the pill is the most commonly used hormonal method of birth control by teens and women in the United States, with 54 percent of girls age 15 to 19 reported using the pill.


Current Food and Drug Administration regulations state prescription drugs should only be made available over-the-counter if they are deemed safe and effective for self-administration, treat a condition that is self-diagnosable and can have labels that are easy to understand for self-administration.

Upadhya and her team found teens have the reasoning skills to make informed decisions regarding oral contraceptives and teens are more likely to use them since they are taken daily and are not tied to specific situations or behavior.

Researchers also say there was no significant difference in contraceptive failure rates in teens compared to adult women. During the study, the team found that teens correctly answer questions about proper contraceptive use roughly 90 percent of the time.

They also found teens use of the Plan B hormonal emergency contraceptive increased from 8 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2011 to 2013 when access became more widely available and over-the-counter.

"Oral contraceptives are popular, safe and effective methods of pregnancy prevention for women and teens," Upadhya said. "Our review emphasizes that any future over-the-counter pill has the potential to benefit teens, and there is no scientific rationale to restrict access based on age."


The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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