Local Pharmacy Promotes Naloxone to Save Lives on Overdose Awareness Day

Today is Overdose Awareness Day. This annual awareness day aims to reduce the stigma of drug-related overdose, prevent overdose-related death, and remember loved ones injured or lost to overdose.

Opioid-related overdoses and overdose fatalities are a growing epidemic in the United States and in San Diego. Opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin, killed more than 28,000 people in the U.S. in 2014 alone. Home naloxone decreases overdose-related fatalities. Naloxone is an antidote to opioids and when given, reverses the effects of opioid overdose immediately. California and some other states have expanded access to home naloxone through pharmacist prescribing and dispensing.

Naloxone on Overdose Awareness DayThe Pharmacists Clinic is committed to saving lives by offering naloxone to patients. We offer overdose education and home naloxone kits to all patients who have a personal opioid overdose risk or a loved one at risk. Some of the risk factors for overdose are: history of overdose, history of opioid misuse or abuse, chronic prescription opioid use with complex medical problems, or taking long-acting opioids. Patients can choose to get naloxone to use at home as an injection, nasal spray, or auto-injection device. Our clinical pharmacist, Dr. Sally Rafie, will review the signs of an overdose, how to respond, and how to administer naloxone in case of emergency with each patient.

According to Dr. Rafie, “many patients underestimate their risk of opioid overdose or that of their loved ones. My goal is for my patients to have this available just in case. There’s no judgment or consequence to keeping this life-saving medicine on hand in case of emergency.” Anyone can book a quick appointment and walk out of the pharmacy equipped with a naloxone kit.

If you take opioids, here are some tips to help ensure you and your loved ones are safe:

  • Do not mix opioids with alcohol, other pain medications, anxiety medications, sleep medications, or street drugs. Mixing opioids with other substances is a leading cause of opioid injury and death. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about other meds you are taking, and let them know if you have any changes in your meds.
  • Keep out of reach from children, other people, and pets. This medication can hurt people if taken by accident.
  • Get rid of any opioid medications that you no longer need.  The safest way to get rid of unused meds is by taking them to a drop off location. If you are unable to take them to one of these places, you should flush them down the toilet or the sink to prevent others from taking them accidentally.
  • Talk to your doctor about carrying naloxone (Narcan) with you in case of emergency. You will need someone else to give you naloxone, so tell your friends or family members where you keep it and how to use it. In an overdose, naloxone can reverse opioid side effects and save your life.
  • Take only as prescribed. Taking more than your doctor told you can lead to injury and in some cases, death. If you feel that your medication is not meeting your pain needs, talk to your doctor to discuss other options that may work better for you.
  • Do not drive or use heavy machinery after you have taken opioids until your doctor says that it is safe. Opioids can cause confusion and sleepiness, which can affect how well you do these activities.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have been taking opioids for a long time and you think that you no longer need them. Your body can get used to the medication. Your doctor may help you prevent withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sweats, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.

For more information:

Hormonal Birth Control Now Available Directly At Pharmacies in California

Like our neighboring state to the north, pharmacists in California can now prescribe and dispense birth control directly to women.  Now this warrants a happy dance!  Women now have another choice in how they get their birth control.  They can either go see their primary care provider, Ob/Gyn, family planning clinic, or go straight to the pharmacy.  At the pharmacy, women will have their choice of birth control pills, patch, ring, or injection.  All thanks to a state law passed back in 2013.  So why the delay?  It took 2 and 1/2 years to develop and approve the protocol because of the multiple rounds of revisions.

Zarah Pharmacy.png

Is this safe?  What about the pap smear?  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.  This helps the pharmacist figure out which methods of birth control are safe.  If the pharmacist finds something concerning in your health history or if you want a long-acting birth control device like the implant or IUDs, then you’ll be referred to a provider who can help with that.  Ultimately, the goal is to improve access to medications where there is a public health benefit.  After the visit, the pharmacist will send a note to your primary care physician to fill them in — unless you don’t want the pharmacist to do that of course.

Interested in getting your birth control directly from your pharmacist?  Give them a call first to find out if they are providing this service.  Just because pharmacists CAN provide this service doesn’t mean they WILL.  California pharmacists want to participate but they are worried about time constraints at the pharmacy that prevent them from taking the time to do this.  Over time, more and more pharmacists will provide this service.  When you call the pharmacy, ask when would be a good time to come in for this service.  Pharmacies have “rush hours” and the pharmacist will be able to give you more time if you  come in when it’s slower.  Some pharmacies may even make appointments for this service.  In California, women of any age can access this service from a participating pharmacist.  No age minimums and no ID checks.  This service is completely confidential and no information can be shared with your parents or anyone else!

What’s this going to cost me?  If you go to the pharmacist for your birth control visit and fill your prescription, the prescription costs will be covered by your insurance the same as if it was written by a different provider.  Unfortunately, insurance companies aren’t paying pharmacists for the visit like they pay physicians and the long list of others who can provide birth control, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives, and even nurses.  So you may have to pay out of pocket for the visit and submit the receipt to your insurance company and hope they reimburse you (if you try this, please let us know if this works or not!).

Is this a good idea?  This is an enormous step forward in increasing access to birth control.  Hopefully women will appreciate having more choices in where to get birth control.  Next steps?  Ideally more states will pass similar laws expanding access with pharmacist prescribing — Tennessee is already moving forward with legislation and many other states are considering it.  There is also growing support for over-the-counter birth control pills.  

Want to consult with Dr. Sally Rafie, PharmD, BCPS about your birth control and get a prescription?  Fill out the contact form and let her know how to reach you.

What California Teens Need to Know About Pharmacy Access to Birth Control

ProviderGuess what California! Having safe sex is about to get a whole lot easier for you in the next few months! We think that increasing access to highly effective forms of birth control is the best way to help prevent unplanned pregnancies and the lawmakers in California agree! A law was passed that is getting ready to rock how you get your birth control in a big way. Starting towards the end of 2015, your local pharmacist can start providing you with more effective forms of birth control in the pharmacy (the pill, the patch, the ring, and the shot)!

This means that you would be able to get your birth control without worrying about making a doctor’s appointment or clinic visit. (Side note: Getting checked out by a doctor regularly is really important! ESPECIALLY, if you are sexually active. It just shouldn’t prevent you from getting effective birth control!) Now if you need birth control you are going to have choices – the doctor’s office, your local family planning clinic, or your local pharmacy!

Who can get birth control at the pharmacy?

First of all, all you ladies out there can use it! Women of all ages — including teens — will be able to use this service. You also don’t need to have insurance or an ID card to get birth control. In California, minors can consent to medical care for the prevention or treatment of pregnancy without parental permission. In fact, legally the pharmacist cannot disclose any information to your parents without your written permission. Of course we know that your parents had sex at least once (hey, you’re here right?) so they probably know a thing or two about sex and birth control. So if you feel comfortable you can always chat with them about any questions you might have and they are welcome to come along to the pharmacy. We know teens like their privacy too; so just know if you don’t want to tell them, we won’t either!

How does pharmacy access to birth control work?

So here’s how it works. It is kind of like when you go get a flu shot from the pharmacist (if you don’t do that you totally should!). You fill out a health screening questionnaire and get your blood pressure taken to make sure that it is safe for the pharmacist to give you birth control and that’s it! The pharmacist will review your questionnaire and talk you about which methods of birth control would be safe for you to use. Then you can discuss how each method works and pick which you like best. The pharmacist will then provide you with birth control supplies just like you would get with a doctor’s prescription and you are good to go.

Keep in mind that not all pharmacies will be providing this service right away. It’s always a good idea to give the pharmacy a quick call to find out if they do before you go in.

How much will this cost me?

There will probably be a small service fee for the screening. This is different than the cost of the medication. If you do have insurance, you will most likely be able to get your prescription filled with no copay. (Thanks Obama!) If you are under your parents insurance, the insurance company might send your parents documents about what you got from the pharmacy. If this is something that you want to keep private, consider filling out a “confidential communication request” for your insurance company. See www.myhealthmyinfo.org for more information and a copy of the form.

What if I don’t live in California?

Basically, this new law is very exciting in the word of birth control. Hopefully once the other states see how much it has helped in California they will follow suit! So if you don’t live in California keep your eyes out changes to come!

What are some trusted sources for more info about birth control methods?

If this gets you excited about birth control, check out these helpful links to help you learn about different methods! These are really cool resources for teens and they break down all the pros and cons of each method. Bedsider includes videos from guys and girls talking about the experiences they’ve had with each method. On their website you can also sign up for text reminders for clinic appointments or to remind you to take your birth control pills, patch, ring, or shot. Planned Parenthood has an interactive quiz to let you know which methods might work best for you. They’ve even got info just for teens.

How can I get my questions answered?

Check out our new resource page just for teens!  If you have any other questions about your sexual health or anything pharmacy related you can submit your question anonymously. Your question will be answered by Dr. Sally Rafie, PharmD, who is a pharmacist and is very passionate about sexual health and how pharmacists can help!


Courtney HeadshotAbout the Author: Courtney Miller just finished her first year of pharmacy school at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is from the central valley which has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in California so this topic is very close to her heart!

My Personal Journey from “Choose Life” to “Choose Control”

I am a pharmacy student at UCSD and if you would have told me one year ago that I would be spending my summer advocating for adolescent reproductive health I probably would have laughed.

My Conservative Background

You see, I was born and raised in the central valley in California, in a conservative community, in a conservative Christian home. I was raised to value human life, including the unborn. You could (and should) call me pro-life. However, during the winter quarter of my first year in pharmacy school, Dr. Sally Rafie, PharmD gave us a lecture about emergency contraception that really impacted me. She shared some staggering statistics. You see, in the United States over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Of those unplanned pregnancies, 40% are going to end in abortion. That’s about 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. But it was her next comment that really struck me and got me interested in this topic, “if we are ever going to decrease the number of abortions, we have to decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies.” That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Courtney Light Bulb Birth Control Sally Rafie

Why I Care About Teens and Family Planning

This summer I have the privilege of doing a project with Dr. Rafie on pharmacists’ growing role in reproductive health services for adolescents. Teen pregnancy in the U.S. is at an all-time low of roughly 26 births per 1000 teens. Now this sounds like a pretty good statistic right?  Less than 3% of teens are actually having babies every year (of course even more are getting pregnant)!  Until you consider the fact that is one of the highest teen birth rates among developed countries and places like the Netherlands have only 5 births per 1000 teens. That means 5 times as many teens are having babies here in the United States. In the central valley where I grew up, our rates are well above the national average and some counties (like Tulare) nearly double it. Obviously what and how we are teaching our teens about and the access that they have to birth control services is not working.

Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing knowledge of and access to birth control methods and services does not increase the number of teens having sex or even how often or with how many people they have sex with. The only statistic that it affects is the number of teens having safe sex and the number of teen pregnancies and teen births. Studies have also revealed that abstinence-only education is ineffective in decreasing the number of teen pregnancies. When we as conservative Christians fight to implement abstinence-only educational programs in schools and limit teens’ access to information and birth control methods, we are contributing to the number of teen pregnancies, the number of abortions, and the number of teen parents and children in the foster system. That is not a statistic that I want to be a part of. Additionally, unless parents know for 100% sure that their child will be living a life of celibacy, family planning education will be valuable to them at some age even if they remain abstinent until marriage. It can also be helpful for teens to share information with their friends who could benefit from accurate knowledge about birth control.

What I’m Doing About It

A new law was passed in California that will allow pharmacists to provide hormonal birth control directly to patients in pharmacies regardless of age. My project this summer is focused on teen girls to see if this is a service that they are interested in and how pharmacies can serve them best. This project will be very important in helping pharmacists prepare to meet the needs of adolescents in their communities as this new program is rolled out.

If you have questions about any of the statistics I discussed or you just want to know more about my research please feel free to contact me. As you might have guessed, this is something that I feel very passionate about and I would love to discuss it with you more.


About the Author:  Courtney Miller just finished her first year of pharmacy school at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is from the central valley which has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in California so this topic is very close to her heart!

Look For These 5 Features When Choosing A Pharmacy For Your Birth Control

When it comes to picking a pharmacy for your birth control — whether you are buying something over-the-counter or filling a prescription — we are inundated with choices.  There are probably as many pharmacies in your neighborhood as there are coffee shops.  Everything from your corporate chain pharmacies (think CVS or Walgreens) to grocery store pharmacies (Vons, Ralphs) to big box pharmacies (Costco, Walmart, Target) to independent pharmacies (YourStreet Pharmacy, Sally’s Drugs).  There are a couple of other options too.  We can’t forget about mail order pharmacies and online pharmacies.  So how do we pick one?

There are a couple of features to look for.  These can be applied to other medications beyond birth control too.

#1 – Privacy  

Is there a private area where you can discuss your confidential medication and other health issues with the pharmacist?  We have all overheard awkward conversations between the pharmacy staff and the person in front of us in line.  The dividers on the counter don’t cut it.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Some pharmacies are making the effort to have a private room or at least a private cubicle to meet with you.  

Target Pharmacy Counter

(Photo credit: Random Retail via Flickr)

Does the pharmacy guarantee your personal health information will not be shared with family members or others without your permission?  There are laws protecting your personal health information but that doesn’t always mean you’re safe.  A lot of people send their loved ones to the pharmacy to pick up their medications or ask a question, so the pharmacy is used to sharing information.  But if you want your records to stay private, ask about their privacy practices.  

#2 – Knowledge

The pharmacy exists for two reasons.  One is to get you the medication supplies you need.  The other is to make sure your medication will be safe and effective for you — essentially serving as a second set of eyes on your doctor’s prescription.  Birth control is not one-size-fits-all.  Pharmacists add an important layer of safety to the risky business of using medications.  You want to be sure your pharmacist is knowledgeable about birth control and everything that goes with it, like the menstrual cycle and sexual health.  

Birth control is amazing.  It prevents unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and does wonders for some mood disorders, making periods lighter and less painful, getting rid of acne, and so much more.  It’s not without its side effects.  As with all other medications, it’s a balancing act of the risks and benefits.  In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.  But you want to be sure your pharmacist warns you about the risks –there are some rare yet serious complications.  Many women give up on birth control because of more benign side effects like spotting, hair growth, decreased sex drive, weight gain, etc.  A pharmacist who knows birth control can use this information to recommend a different birth control formulation that will give you less grief and helps you plan if/when you want a baby.

#3 – Service

What services does the pharmacy provide that might add value to you as the patient or client?  Check if they can auto-refill your prescription.  Some pharmacies may be able to call/text/email you when your prescription is ready for pick up or when you’re due for a refill to see if you want them to process it.  Ask if the pharmacy can reach out to you when you are due for vaccines or other preventive health check-ins like STD testing.  

Perhaps you’d like to make an appointment to discuss your birth control or other health/medication issues with your pharmacist.  If this is an available service, does the pharmacy have an online scheduling option?

Is your pharmacy willing to go to bat for you?  This may mean playing phone tag with your doctor to get your prescription just right.  Or spending time convincing your health insurance company that you need this method of birth control or whatever medication and that the insurance company should pay for it (so you don’t have to).  See if your pharmacist has collaborations with other nearby health care providers and refer you as needed for related services like a pap test, pelvic exam, or breast exam (note: these are not needed for birth control, but help screen for cancer).

#4 – Convenience

Is the pharmacy convenient for you?  And I included you because we are each looking for something different.  Would it more convenient if the pharmacy was near school, near work, or near home?  Would you prefer they are open on weekdays or weekends?  Mornings or evenings?  Don’t forget to consider the parking situation.  

In this century, it’s not just about getting to the physical location anymore.  Does your pharmacy send you through an automated phone maze or is it easy to get through to someone who can help?  Can you email or text your pharmacy?  Do they accept refill requests online?

Now think about what the pharmacy can offer you to make it even easier.  Do they offer delivery or shipping services?  A small fee could well be worth the added convenience.  Your time and effort is money…and there’s the cost of gas too.

Does the pharmacy have other items that you can conveniently grab or have delivered/shipped?  Maybe you want to pick up a Mother’s Day card (hint hint, it’s just around the corner).  Or you’d like to pick up a thoughtful gift for your roommate.  Or you just need to stock up on the basics — we all need to brush our teeth  and use deodorant right?

#5 – Trustworthiness

This is somewhat of a catch-all for for the remaining things you should be looking for.  First, is the pharmacy legitimate and licensed?  Your neighborhood pharmacy will be but what about the anonymous people operating the online pharmacies.  Are the pharmacists licensed with their state board of pharmacy?  Does the pharmacy have a license/permit?  Are they getting the medications from a trusted wholesaler or could they be off-market?  The integrity of a medication cannot be trusted if it touches an off-market wholesaler.  You do not want to be fooled by counterfeit medications.  There’s a fantastic book on this topic.

Why isn’t cost on the list?

Medication prices are controlled much higher upstream and the pharmacies may not have much input on the matter.  The drug wholesalers set prices and insurance companies dictate how much the pharmacy gets reimbursed for dispensing prescription medications.  Oftentimes, pharmacies are actually losing money on some of the prescriptions they fill.  When the pharmacy’s costs and reimbursements are controlled by these outside factors, so is the cost to you — the patient.  Your copay will be the same regardless of which pharmacy fills your medication.*  So you can let the other features listed above help you pick the pharmacy that meets your needs.

*Some health insurance plans have lower copays when using their mail order pharmacy.  So a 3-month supply may be given for the price of 2-monthly copays.  Some health insurance plans may have “preferred” pharmacies so using a non-preferred pharmacy could cost a bit extra.

We would love to hear about your experiences with different pharmacies.  Please add comments below!

Pill Supply…The Pharmacy is On Your Side

Birth control pills are the most popular form of hormonal birth control and one of the most popular forms among all birth control methods.Birth Control Pill Supply Choose Control Sally Rafie

What’s the problem?

One of the biggest barriers to using birth control pills correctly and consistently is the lack of supply. Many women find themselves out of birth control pills when they go to take their next pill.  And because birth control pills currently require a prescription from a doctor or clinic, this could lead to delays.  Catastrophic delays.  Missing a couple birth control pills is very different than missing a couple of cholesterol pills.  It could mean pregnancy.  Especially because the first few pills in each pack are the most important to take on time to be sure ovulation is prevented (and no egg is released).  So that explains the problem.

What’s the solution? 

Giving women larger supplies of their birth control pills!  This mean less trips to the pharmacy, fewer missed pills, and fewer unplanned pregnancies.  It’s all very logical.  The hang up?  Health insurance plans don’t want to pay for larger supplies up front.  From their perspective, you may be a customer this month, but may not be a few months from now.  More and more plans are restricting the supply that can be dispensed at the pharmacy.  So even if your prescription is written for a 3-month supply at a time, the pharmacy may only be able to give you 1 pack for no/low co-pay.  Of course, women can choose to ditch the reimbursement from their health insurance plan and pay cash for multiple packs at once, but few will choose to do that and they certainly shouldn’t have to.

What does the research tell us?

All the research supports larger supplies.  It helps women stick to their birth control method and we know that’s what it takes to prevent unplanned pregnancies.  A systematic review of four research studies found that prescribing and dispensing more pill packs led to a handful of benefits:

  1. Increased birth control method continuation
  2. Fewer pregnancy tests
  3. Fewer pregnancies
  4. Fewer abortions
  5. Lower cost per patient

The only downside?  Some pill packs were wasted.  The wastage was a result of some women who stopped using birth control pills before they ran out of supplies.  But that was a small price to pay to reap all the other rewards.  There was an overall financial savings to providing more pill packs.

How do we get women the supplies they need?

Oregon lawmakers are proposing a new bill that would require health plans to allow up to a 12-month supply of birth control pills to be dispensed at once.  If you’re in the area and want to get involved, you can participate in a local lobby day on March 25th.  Hopefully this Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill passes and serves as a precendent for other states. For now, it is up to each health insurance plan to determine how many packs they will allow women to receive at a once.

Women always have the option to self-pay to get around plan restrictions.  Some pharmacies offer auto-refill programs to help patients stay on track with their medications, so ask if your pharmacy offers this.

Birth Control in 2014: The Goodies and The Bullies

Reflecting back on what happened with birth control in the last 12 months, there were many goodies worth celebrating…hooray! Unfortunately, there were some big time birth control bullies too…boo! Here’s a quick reflection on the most notable of each.

Birth Control in 2014 Goodies Bullies Choose ControlGoodies

1. More women using highly effective methods. We saw a big jump in the use of highly effective methods of birth control, also known as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC). Among women using birth control, only 2% were using LARC in 2002 but that’s up to nearly 12% in 2011-2013. Both teens and adult women alike are now choosing these methods over other options more than ever before. Most women still use the pill, which is very effective if taken correctly and consistently, followed by condoms. LARC comes in at 3rd favorite. We are all on the edge of our seats to see if this leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

2. Generic versions of Plan B One Step approved. The FDA approved several generic versions of Plan B One-Step. This means more options when it comes to emergency contraception. The brand Plan B One-Step product is still on the shelf, so now women can choose between spending $50 on that or go with one of the less expensive generic products ($40 for My Way, Levonorgestrel, Take Action, or Next Choice). The least expensive product (AfterPill) is available online for $25 a dose. This is a great option for anyone who wants to keep a dose at home in case it’s needed later.

3. Birth control being developed for men. Men have been limited to vasectomies and condoms for pretty much ever. That list may grow much longer to include pills, gels, injections, and even implants in the future. Indonesia is studying a natural compound as a birth control pill for men. While no new methods hit the market in 2014, we’ve got lots of great options in the works. In the meantime, an elastic prophylactic (better known as a condom) will have to do for most.

4. Californians can get birth control at the pharmacy without a prescription. California approved a law that expands pharmacists’ scope of practice to include providing some birth control methods directly to patients without a prescription. That means women in California will be able to get the pill, patch, ring, and depot injection at their local pharmacy soon. The protocol is being finalized now and this new service should be available in the next few months. This is a BIG DEAL! California will be the first state with this expanded access, which is the closest to over-the-counter. More to come on this when we get closer to this being a reality.

5. More support for over-the-counter access to the pill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists just released an expert opinion on access to birth control reinforcing their statement of support for over-the-counter birth control. Many other professional associations and advocacy organizations are behind this expanded access too. Want to know more about over-the-counter birth control? Check out the Free the Pill websiteTwitter, or Facebook page.

6. Improving consumer and healthcare provider knowledge of emergency contraception. Senator Murray along with her consponsors introduced the Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act of 2014. If passed, two things would happen: First, hospitals* would be required to give sexual assault victims medically accurate information about emergency contraception and promptly offer emergency contraception regardless of the victim’s ability to pay for this service. Second, there would be educational programs about emergency contraception directed at both the public and healthcare providers. Ask your senators to support this bill. *This would be required of hospitals receiving federal funds.

There have been lots of efforts to increase awareness about emergency contraception methods and availability. I helped create a guide to access to emergency contraception for pharmacists and other pharmacy staff members. Bedsider.org has awesome resources like this chart comparing methods of emergency contraception.

Bullies

1. Corporations can have religious beliefs. And impose those beliefs to restrict the health care options of their employees. But only when it comes to birth control and abortions. This doesn’t make any sense but the Supreme Court of the United States made it so. Tens of other companies are now following in Hobby Lobby footsteps to fight the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This GIFs-planation explains how we went from celebrating the birth control benefit — a major goodie — to being bullied by “religious corporations.”

2. Republicans support over-the-counter birth control for the wrong reasons. Their reason: so it’s no longer covered by insurance. But birth control will need to be covered by insurance to be sure there’s access. Since the Affordable Care Act benefit kicked in, we’ve already seen a shift in women using more effective methods that were cost-prohibitive before (see goodie #1). Over-the-counter birth control would make it much more convenient for women (see goodie #5) but insurance coverage means ALL women can benefit. Dr. Dan Grossman, MD, MPH explains the issues in this LA Times Op-Ed.

3. Counterfeit birth control. Untrustworthy retailers began selling emergency contraception on Amazon.com this year. The unbelievably low price was the first red flag. We don’t know whether these products were counterfeit, stolen, or illegitimate for some other reason. But we can’t trust them either. RH Reality Check published a great article warning buyers to beware. The FDA also has posted information on the dangers of buying medications online and warning consumers to be wary. As if there aren’t enough barriers to birth control without adding this to the list.

I’m glad to see there are more goodies in my list than bullies. I’m optimistic about what 2015 will bring and hope you’ll join me by using your voices and votes to promote progress.

Radio Interview About Pharmacists & Birth Control

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a radio program about the different areas where pharmacists provide clinical services.  The host of Health Update Radio, Dr. Gerry Graf, is a retired pharmacist himself and was very interested in pharmacist roles with family planning and birth control.  The program aired live last Monday, September 5, 2014.  The portion of the show where I am interviewed can be found in the video clip below.

We talk about why family planning is important for women of all ages from menarche (when a young woman begins menstruating) to menopause.  Some of the topics we discussed include all the different methods of birth control, considerations in women with medical conditions, access and privacy in pharmacies, and contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act and Hobby Lobby decision.

You can access the full program featuring Drs. Steven Atallah and David Ha discussing their roles in trauma care and infectious diseases care on the WS Radio website.

Summer Research Students Say Hello

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two motivated pharmacy students on research projects related to family planning services at community pharmacies. They’d like to say “hello” and tell you why they are doing this work.

Kevin Vu and Emily Richards, Summer Research Students

Kevin Vu and Emily Richards, Summer Research Students


Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kevin.

I chose to do a reproductive health-related summer research project because as the pharmacy profession is evolving, pharmacists are playing larger roles in providing family planning services directly to patients. My research for instance, is a survey study of pharmacists’ attitudes towards a recent California law that will allow pharmacists to provide hormonal birth control directly to patients without a prescription (under a protocol that is currently under development…more to come on this).

Family planning is a topic that I come across frequently at the chain community pharmacy where I work. For example, I recently had the opportunity to counsel a patient on proper use of the over-the-counter emergency contraception, Plan B One-Step, and the appropriate time frame to take it. But, many people may feel awkward discussing these topics.  I hope you find this site to be a place where you can comfortably voice your opinions and get any of your burning questions answered. After all, protecting your sexual and reproductive health is important to your overall health.


Hi there! My name is Emily.

Since starting pharmacy school, I have constantly been shown the ways in which the pharmacist plays a vital role in healthcare…in ways I didn’t even expect. The passing of the new law Kevin mentioned expands the role of the pharmacist even further. Once pharmacists can provide hormonal birth control methods directly to patients, this will be very helpful for women who prefer getting their birth control directly at the pharmacy.

I am also conducting a summer research project. I am interviewing pharmacists in order to understand their interest in providing pharmacy access to family planning services, as well as challenges they may face in doing so.  I chose this topic because this expanding pharmacist role places pharmacists in the unique position to provide family planning services, which is especially important for those who may be unable to afford or scared to obtain services otherwise. I am not quite finished with the project, but I have already become more aware about how important women’s health and family planning services are to the community. I am learning a lot and hope you too can learn from this website and use it as a resource.


Kevin Vu is a third-year student and Emily Richards is a second-year student at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Why I Started Choose Control

Image from JakeandLindsay Sherbert via Flickr

Those of you who know me have probably heard me talk about sexual and reproductive health, particularly family planning.  You may be asking, “what exactly is family planning?”  Great question!  Family planning is planning if and/or when to start a family by having children.  You accomplish this by using birth control when you don’t want to have a child, for example.  People who have the opposite goal — to have a child — accomplish this by using preconception care and infertility treatments (however, this is not the focus of Choose Control).

My focus is to help women and men who do not want to start or expand their families right now with their family planning needs.  Seems simple.  But as a nation, we are doing a really bad job of family planning despite a lot of valiant efforts.  Ready to have your mind blown?  Over half of all pregnancies…51% to be exact…are unintended (i.e., mistimed or unwanted).  That’s about 3 million of the 6 million pregnancies in the United States each year.  I hope your mind has been blown by this one statistic (if not, I’ve got lots more where that came from or check out this fact sheet).

Now you’re beginning to understand my passion for this issue.

As a pharmacist specializing in family planning, I know some things worth sharing. Pharmacists have expertise on medications and my expertise is on birth control (i.e., contraception in medical lingo).  I’d like to keep you, my friends and followers, in the know with relevant information and news on research, public policy, and products.  I will make this interactive and fun too.

In closing, I hope you will find Choose Control’s content useful.  I look forward to your comments, suggestions, and questions!

Sincerely,
Sally