Oregon State study: Allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control expands access

Oregon was the first state to allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives. The District of Columbia and eight other states - California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Washington - have since followed Oregon's example. (SBG/File)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control has helped more women at risk of unintended pregnancy access contraception, according to an Oregon State University study on the 2016 Oregon law.

Oregon was the first state to allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives.

The District of Columbia and eight other states - California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Washington - have since followed Oregon's example.

Research led by Professor Lorinda Anderson, a clinical assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy, examined the first 2 years after the law went into effect.

The study, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the first of its kind on the effects of Oregon's law.

According to OSU:

The study suggests that in the first two years after the law went into effect, pharmacist-prescribed contraception prevented more than 50 unintended pregnancies and saved an estimated $1.6 million in associated taxpayer costs.

Researchers examined Oregon Medicaid claims to reach their findings.

They found that out of the 3,614 Medicaid patients receiving a new prescription for contraceptives, 367 got their prescription from a pharmacist.

According to OSU:

Of those receiving pharmacist-issued prescriptions, 252 had been enrolled in Medicaid for at least 180 days prior to receiving their first prescription. Among those 252, 74% had no history of a contraceptive prescription in the preceding 30 days.

The numbers show that when pharmacists are allowed to prescribe hormonal contraceptives, access increases and unwanted pregnancies should decrease.

“If the majority of women that pharmacists are prescribing for were not on contraception in the previous month, this means that they were likely not using very effective contraception before seeing the pharmacist,” Anderson said. “Therefore, if pharmacists are reaching this population, then it can be extrapolated that this will reduce unintended pregnancies.”

The researchers see pharmacists as a key resource in delivering preventative health care like contraception.

“Pharmacists are highly trained professionals who practice in a variety of settings,” said Dan Hartung, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy who collaborated on the research. “Community pharmacies offer an alternative point of access for patients and are highly accessible – 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, most are open for longer hours than a traditional clinic, and they also don’t require an appointment.”

And the program in Oregon has expanded: Since 2018, Oregon pharmacists have also been able to prescribe other forms of short-acting hormonal contraception via injection and the vaginal ring.

“As the program matures and contracts with additional insurers are implemented at pharmacies, the number of pharmacist prescriptions will likely increase,” Anderson said.

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