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Over-the-Counter Access to Oral Contraceptives for Adolescents

      Abstract

      Oral contraceptives (OCs) are used by millions of women in the U.S. The requirement to obtain OCs by prescription from a clinician may serve as a barrier to contraceptive initiation and continuation for women, in particular adolescents. Over-the-counter (OTC) availability would reduce this barrier and could further reduce unintended pregnancy rates. This review explores the scientific issues and regulatory processes involved in switching OCs to OTC status for minor adolescents. We review: (1) the regulatory criteria for switching a drug to OTC status; (2) risk of pregnancy and safety during use of OCs including combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only pills for adolescents; (3) the ability of adolescents to use OCs consistently and correctly; (4) OTC access to OCs and potential effect on sexual risk behaviors; and (5) the potential for reduced opportunities for clinicians to counsel and provide recommended reproductive health care to adolescents. We find strong scientific rationale for including adolescents in any regulatory change to switch OCs to OTC status. OCs are safe and highly effective among adolescents; contraindications are rarer among adolescents compared to adult women. Ready access to OCs, condoms, and emergency contraception increases their use without increasing sexual risk behaviors.

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