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Some 27 years ago, in 1993, The Lancet published an editorial arguing the case for oral contraceptives over the counter (OTC).1 It opened by saying that the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) had helped women ‘escape from the confines of their own reproductive system’ but that ‘these ex-prisoners remain on probation’ because they still needed to see a doctor regularly for a repeat prescriptions. This month, almost 60 years after approval in the UK, at last an oral contraceptive has been approved here for initiation and use without a doctor’s prescription. Desogestrel 75 μg daily, a progestogen-only pill (POP) available in the UK for over 20 years, will be available as a pharmacy medicine for use by women of all ages wishing to prevent pregnancy. While a few countries, like the Netherlands and New Zealand,2 have arrangements which allow women to obtain repeat supplies from pharmacies without a prescription, this will be the first time that women living in the industrialised world will be able to buy the pill without ever consulting a doctor.
It has taken a long time. The pill is arguably one of the most widely used drugs in the world and one of the most intensively researched. In the UK, where almost one in three women currently using contraception choose the OCP,3 there must be very few women of reproductive age who have …
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests The author has worked for over 20 years with HRA Pharma, the French company that is launching the desogestrel progestogen-only pill (Hana). In 2007 at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seminar the author was told that no agency/organisation could make an application for oral contraception over the counter, it could only come from a pharmaceutical company. The author is proud to have worked with a company that is at last willing to take the risk and make the effort to get approval.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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