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A prescription-free birth control pill is coming


Perrigo's FDA-approved Opill will be available in 2024.Opill

Birth control pills will soon be as easy to get as chocolate and pickles now that the first over-the-counter oral contraceptive has the green light in the US.

Yesterday, the FDA approved Opill, a once-daily tablet that will be available online and in grocery, convenience, and drug stores as early as January, about 50 years after it was first cleared for prescription use. After post-Roe abortion bans and other threats to reproductive rights, this decision—long sought by major medical groups and unanimously supported by the FDA’s scientific advisory committee—hands a victory to public health supporters.

The details

  • Opill, known generically as norgestrel, will be available without a doctor’s prescription for buyers of all ages. That will primarily benefit teenagers and the 45% of women who face at least one barrier to reproductive healthcare services in the US as of 2021, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
  • Perrigo, the pill’s manufacturer, hasn’t named a price yet, but a VP at the company said at a news briefing that it’s “committed” to making Opill “affordable and accessible.”
  • Most insurance doesn’t cover over-the-counter medications, but congressional Democrats are pushing for a bill requiring insurers to pay for nonprescription birth control. Advocacy groups are pressuring state Medicaid programs to do the same.

About half of the 6.1 million annual pregnancies in the US are unplanned, according to the FDA. But experts say that could be reduced once America starts offering non-Rx birth control pills to the masses—something 100 nations already do, according to Free the Pill, a reproductive advocacy group.

Like most oral contraceptives, Opill is 93% effective in preventing pregnancy, compared to the ~87% effectiveness of using condoms alone.

Looking ahead…Opill could be the first of many over-the-counter birth control pills. Pharma company Cadence OTC is working with the FDA to get approval for its own nonprescription oral contraceptive, which is expected to start late-stage trials next year.

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