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The FDA approves Opill, the first daily birth control pill without a prescription

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For the first time, a birth control pill will be available in the United States without a prescription from a doctor. The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication known as Opill for over-the-counter sales. The company that makes it says the drug will be on the shelves early next year, although they have not said how much it will cost. Angela Maske of the organization Advocates for Youth testified before the FDA in May asking them to approve the drug. She spoke recently with Michel Martin, who began by asking what motivated Maske to campaign for the new pill.

ANGELA MASKE: The first time I tried to access birth control pills, I was a freshman in college. But I was told that since my university was Catholic, I could not be prescribed birth control pills at our student health center, so I actually had to seek care elsewhere at a different provider. And it took me three months to navigate finding a new doctor in this new city and getting an appointment before I could finally pick up the birth control pills that I needed.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And then I understand that after a certain point you were even getting telehealth, which is something that has become increasingly popular, but then even that arrangement fell apart. Is that accurate? And how did - what happened then?

MASKE: Yes. I mean, this actually happened just this year where I had been using a telehealth service to ship my birth control pills to me. And one day, they suddenly announced that they would no longer be serving patients here in D.C. And so at that time, I had to scramble with just a week left of my supply to, you know, find a new provider and get a new prescription. And so, you know, in both of these times in my life, if I had had access to an over-the-counter birth control pill, I would have been spared so much stress and time just knowing that I had an option I could easily pick up on the shelves of my local drugstore.

MARTIN: What do you think is the importance of this decision in making this particular form of birth control available over the counter?

MASKE: Once Opill is available on the shelves of drugstores, it will be the most effective form of over-the-counter birth control available to folks. And that is really, really huge. And we know that the prescription requirement right now for birth control pills poses many barriers for people in general who need them, but particularly for young people who often don't have access to reliable transportation to go to a doctor's appointment, who are uninsured, or maybe they're on their parents' insurance and who face stigma and judgment from family members and health care providers.

MARTIN: You testified before the FDA about this, and you asked them to make this available without age restriction. So it is being made available for all users of reproductive age. That could be as young as 11. Are you at all concerned about that? That maybe a 12- or 13-year-old would not understand that, for example, taking birth control pills can protect you from pregnancy, but it can't protect you from sexually transmitted disease?

MASKE: You know, that's not a concern for me personally. And based on the literature and the research that's out there, you know, Opill's studies that the FDA required actually showed that young people, you know, within that age range that you mentioned, could read the labels and understand them effectively. And I think it's really important to note that young people of any age are able to get a number of other medications that are available over the counter already. And that, of course, includes Plan B emergency contraception that you can get at your local drugstore.

MARTIN: Is there something about the particular era that we are now in where a number of states are moving very aggressively to curtail access to abortion, for example - do you think that making this medication available over the counter is particularly important at this time?

MASKE: It is very important, especially in light of a number of restrictions on abortion across the country that we're seeing. But I will also say that this has been in the works for many years. You know, it has been decades of work that advocates have been putting towards making a birth control pill available over the counter.

MARTIN: That's Angela Maske of Advocates for Youth. Thanks so much for talking to us.

MASKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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