Present and Future Pharmacist Roles in Medication Abortion Care

March 8, 2021
Sally Rafie, PharmD, and Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate

Educational programming for pharmacy students and practicing pharmacists on medication abortion is limited.

Twenty years ago, the FDA approved mifepristone. Since then, medication has transformed the accessibility of abortion. In 2017, about 39% of abortions in the United States were medication abortions, reflecting many people’s preference for this option.1 As reproductive health services are transforming, it is important that pharmacy services become adaptive to them.

What is medication abortion?

A medication abortion is the use of medications to end a pregnancy. There are a couple of medication abortion regimens, but the only regimen approved by the FDA is a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol to end a pregnancy up to 70 days gestation.2

First, a patient takes 200 mg of mifepristone orally followed by 800 mcg of misoprostol buccally, 24-48 hours after the mifepristone dose. After 7-14 days, the patient must follow-up with a health care provider.2

Mifepristone works by binding competitively to the intracellular progesterone receptor, thus blocking the effects of progesterone that support the pregnancy.3 Misoprostol works by inducing contractions in the myometrium as well as relaxation of the cervix.4

According to a systematic review performed by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), medication abortion was 97% effective up to 70 days after gestation.5

Present pharmacist roles with medication abortion

Right now, the pharmacist role with medication abortion is minimal as patients receive their dose of mifepristone in the clinic to take either at that time or at home. A prescription for misoprostol may be filled at a pharmacy to be picked up by the patient. Pharmacists will counsel patients on how to take the misoprostol and what to expect with this medication.

Mifepristone is only able to be dispensed at a clinic as a result of restrictions in place as part of the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, or REMS. The purpose of REMS is to assure that a medication’s benefits outweigh its risks. Recently, there have been studies on the safety of mifepristone to determine whether the REMS requirements are necessary or not.

Future pharmacist roles with medication abortion

According to articles published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, the REMS restrictions on mifepristone use have been deemed medically unnecessary as the rates of adverse events and mortality are extremely low. Since its approval, only 19 deaths have been reported to the FDA out of over 3 million patients who had taken mifepristone giving it a mortality rate of 0.00063%.6Additionally, analysis of data from studies of over 423,000 women, which demonstrated that nonfatal serious adverse events from mifepristone use ranged from 0.01-0.7% and were almost always able to be treated.6

There are research studies underway to evaluate no-test medication abortion protocols, medication abortion telehealth services, and pharmacy dispensing of mifepristone. As new information emerges, there will be more opportunities for pharmacists to have a role in medication abortion care.

Educational programming for pharmacy students and practicing pharmacists on medication abortion is limited. The University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) recently released a home study continuing pharmacy education program titled “Pharmacists’ Roles in Medication Abortion.

Conclusion

In summary, medication abortion is a critical and common component of women’s health and reproductive health services. Although there are currently restrictions on the ways that patients can obtain a medication abortion, emerging research findings establishing its safety may soon change these guidelines.

REFERENCES

  1. Jones RK, Witwer E and Jerman J, Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2017, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2019, Accessed September 8, 2020. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-incidence-service-availability-us-2017
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Mifeprex (mifepristone) information, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/mifeprex-mifepristone-information
  3. Mifeprex (mifepristone) [prescribing information]. New York, NY: Danco Laboratories, LLC; April 2019.
  4. Cytotec (misoprostol) [prescribing information]. New York, NY: Pfizer; February 2018.
  5. Chen, MJ, Creinin, MD. Mifepristone with Buccal Misoprostol for Medical Abortion: A Systematic Review. Obstetrics and gynecology, 2015;126(1), 12-21. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0v4749ss.
  6. Mifeprex REMS Study Group, Sixteen years of overregulation: time to unburden Mifeprex, N Eng J Med, 2017;376(8):790-794,https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsb1612526.
  7. Raifman S, Orlando M, Rafie S, Grossman D. Medication abortion: potential for improved patient access through pharmacies. 2018;58(4):377-81.