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A new metanalysis has been published outlining the evidence that oral birth control pills are safe and effective even for teens to take over the counter, meaning without a prescription from a doctor. This isn’t actually surprising at all, considering that ob-gyns have been saying this for years now and two states have already passed laws allowing pharmacists to write the needed prescriptions on the spot for women who want birth control.
In fact, birth control is one of the few drugs that’s safer for younger women compared to older women, considering that the hormones in oral contraceptives increases an older woman’s risk of heart problems, stroke, or blood clots. For most teenagers, the side effects of birth control pills are things like less bleeding on your period, clearer skin, and not having to give up on all your dreams in order to have an unintended baby. Ooh, scary! So glad we make those pills hard to access!
The danger of hormonal birth control is nothing compared to other over-the-counter drugs, like Tylenol. Tylenol is just acetaminophen (its name in the US…paracetamol in other countries), a pain reliever that actually doesn’t really do much to relieve pain, as more and more studies have shown in the past few years. It doesn’t work for back pain, or for neuropathic pain, or for cancer pain, and it barely works better than placebo for osteoporosis, migraines, and postoperative pain.
Meanwhile, Tylenol is known to correlate with a lot of deaths, probably more than any other over-the-counter drug (and not just because of people using it to commit suicide). It is known to completely fuck up your liver, which can make it particularly deadly when taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. It can damage your kidneys as well, and it’s also associated with heart and stomach problems.
Even worse, the approved limit for Tylenol is 4 grams in a day, but doctors have reported overdoses from as little as 2.5 grams in a day.
Forget the debate over whether a medicine should be available over-the-counter or by prescription — all this makes a person wonder why Tylenol is even sold at the pharmacy at all.
So why can’t we get oral contraceptives over-the-counter? Simple: the ridiculous ongoing control of women’s bodies by the government. In the US, the FDA has to make determinations on what can be sold over-the-counter, and to date they continue to rule that birth control needs to be prescription-only. But not only does that not improve the health and safety of Americans, it actively undermines their health and safety. Making birth control difficult to access means more unintended pregnancies, which means an increase in both maternal illnesses and deaths as well as an increased need for abortions. And as we also make abortions more and more difficult to access, that means an even greater increase in maternal deaths as women seek illegal and unsafe back alley abortions.
Throughout the past decade, we’ve made good progress on making birth control more easily available, despite the best efforts of the Religious Right. That includes making Plan B available over the counter back in 2013, which, I hate to tell you, is just a megadose of regular old oral contraceptives. This has led to a clear improvement in the lives of Americans. Making regular, boring old “Plan A” birth control pills available over-the-counter will only make things better.