All state protocols to date require pharmacist training and patient screening with a questionnaire and blood pressure measurement. Colorado’s legislation most closely resembles Oregon’s in allowing initiation of birth control pills and patch to adult women for up to three years until she sees a physician. California’s protocol is more comprehensive in allowing initiation of the birth control ring and injection as well, in addition to serving female patients of all ages without a duration limit.
Public Health Impact
In 2010, 45% of all pregnancies (43,000) in Colorado were unintended. This expanded pharmacist scope is great news for women in Colorado and affords them more choices in access points for birth control. Colorado pharmacists are also looking forward to providing this important public health service to their patients.
It is yet to be determined what types of patients utilize this service when offered by pharmacists. The service became available at participating pharmacies as of January 2016 in Oregon and April 2016 in California.
Colorado has had great success with other initiatives to address unintended pregnancies. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants at low or no cost to low-income women. This contributed to a 40% drop in the teen birth rate from 2009 through 2013. This project is among others in demonstrating that when cost and access barriers to long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods such as IUDs and implants are removed, women are likely to choose these more effective methods. By 2019, Colorado aims to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate to 30% or less as one of their “Winnable Battles.”
There have been concerns about the safety of providing hormonal contraception without physical exams and pap smears. Though hormonal contraceptives are not without risks, these are generally outweighed by the benefits and considered safe for most women. A pelvic examination and a pap smear are not necessary to initiate hormonal birth control. They are important for other health reasons. Women will need to complete a health history questionnaire and have their blood pressure taken at the pharmacy. The pharmacist will use this information to determine which methods of birth control are safe.
This is another step forward in increasing access to birth control. Hopefully more states will pass similar laws expanding access with pharmacist prescribing.
There is also growing support for over-the-counter birth control pills. That differs from pharmacist prescribing because consultation with a pharmacist would no longer be required.
- Kost K, Unintended Pregnancy Rates at the State Level: Estimates for 2010 and Trends Since 2002, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2015, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/unintended-pregnancy-rates-state-level-estimates-2010-and-trends-2002.
Sally Rafie, PharmD
Sally Rafie, PharmD, BCPS, APh, NCMP is a pharmacist specialist at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Health and an assistant clinical professor at the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She started the Birth Control Pharmacist project (www.birthcontrolpharmacist.com) to help educate pharmacists and other health care professionals about family planning topics such as hormonal contraception, emergency contraception, and youth-friendly pharmacy services. Her advocacy efforts support widespread access to reproductive health services and products, particularly in pharmacies.