Regulatory authorities in the United States have approved the first over-the-counter birth control pill, a change that will allow adult and adolescent women to find it on the same shelf as colds and nose drops.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Thursday that Opill, Perrigo's daily pill, has been approved for sale without a prescription. The company will start shipping the pill early next year and there will be no age restriction on sales.
Hormone-based pills have been the most common form of birth control in the United States, used by tens of millions of women since the 1960s. Until now, they were all sold by prescription.
Medical associations and women's health promoters have campaigned for greater access, pointing out that approximately 45% of the 6 million pregnancies a year are unintended. Teen girls and girls, women of color, and low-income women report the biggest barriers to getting prescriptions and paying for pills.
Those obstacles are, among others, paying for the medical visit, obtaining permission to leave work and finding a babysitter.
“This is a real transformation in access to contraception,” said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, an NGO that supported the new rule. "We hope this helps people overcome those barriers."
Ireland-based Perrigo did not announce pricing. Over-the-counter drugs are often much cheaper than prescription drugs, but insurance doesn't cover them.
Many medications have become available over the counter in recent decades, including pain relievers, antacids, and allergy medications.
The new birth control pills generally combine two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, which lighten and regularize periods. But their use increases the risk of clots and they are not recommended for women with heart problems, smokers and those over 35 years of age.