If you received direct mail this winter addressing you as “Hey girl,” then you probably were being recruited for a national study on birth control access.
Utah-based Pegus Research blanketed the Twin Cities with ads for the study, which will analyze whether women will follow packaging instructions and safely take birth control pills when provided over the counter rather than via prescription. The study is being conducted for HRA Pharma, a French pharmaceutical company that announced plans in 2016 to bring over-the-counter birth control pills to the U.S.
While a number of regulatory and political hurdles remain, the study in 17 states is tackling the key question of whether such a move would be safe. Researchers would track women taking norgestrel, a common birth control pill, to determine whether they missed doses, took other drugs that would cause harmful interactions, suffered side effects, or got pregnant. Women would provide the information confidentially via online diaries and phone interviews.
The study reboots a similar effort by Pegus and HRA Pharma in 2018. That study was halted because of data collection problems, according to the federal clinicaltrials.gov website. Spokespeople for Pegus and HRA Pharma did not return calls for comment.
Recruitment information is available at thepillstudy.com.
Birth control has been an explosive political topic, with Democrats generally favoring policies that mandate its inclusion in health care benefits, and Republicans opposing such mandates or supporting business exemptions due to religious objections. It has come up in Minnesota courts, where eight companies gained exemptions to birth control coverage requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to review an attempt by President Donald Trump to allow businesses to opt out of federal coverage requirements as well.
Cost is a complicating factor in the debate over making birth control pills available over the counter. Doing so would allow women to avoid the expense of doctors’ visits solely for prescriptions or refills. On the other hand, health plans generally cover prescriptions only, so the full cost of a daily over-the-counter medication would fall on patients.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists favors making birth control pills available over the counter to expand access and prevent more unintended pregnancies.