European news is shocking many Americans. Why should you care about packing changes to a drug called Norlevo?
Here is the issue:
The average woman (20 and older) in the United States weighs 166.2 pounds (according to the CDC) and the average weight of non-Hispanic black women is heavier. While it doesn’t seem like a statistic that would start a column on sexual and reproductive health, an announcement from the European manufacture of an emergency contraceptive pill has changed the game on emergency contraceptive recommendations. The company that produces Norlevo, which is identical to morning after pills like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, My Way, and generic brands, is changing the label to warn that the drug is less effective in women weighing 165 pounds or more and completely ineffective in women weighing 175 pounds or more.
The new packaging slip will read, in part: “Studies suggest that Norlevo is less effective in women weighing [165 pounds] or more and not effective in women weighing [176 pounds] or more” and that Norlevo “is not recommended…if you weigh [165 pounds] or more.”
A study first raised this issue back in 2011, but was based on a small sample. (The question is raised- why wasn’t research conducted with women of the ‘average weight’ from the start?)
Who does this affect?
This is a big deal for many Americans considering one in nine sexually active women aged 15-44 used emergency contraception at least once between 2006-2010.
Keep in mind, emergency contraception is used after sexual intercourse in instances where a woman or her partner thinks they might have failed to protect themselves from pregnancy. Nearly one-half of women who have ever used emergency contraception reported fear of method failure as a reason for use (and nearly one-half reported unprotected sex as the reason for use).
Emergency contraceptive pills like the ones listed above are, for many women, the most affordable and easily accessible option (no prescription needed!).
What can you do while the FDA reviews the issue to determine what labeling changes should be made Stateside?
Experts recommend taking the pills even if you are in this weight category until more research is conducted and findings are more conclusive.
There is more than one method of emergency contraceptive.
Women can also have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted by a doctor up to five days after unprotected sex to help prevent pregnancy. The Copper IUD is more effective, in fact, for preventing pregnancy and has been found to be just as effective in women with higher body mass index.
In my mind, maybe this news release is a call to talk to your doctor about IUDs, to see if this is the right method for you. I’d also like to hear the conversation shift to advocating for more birth control methods for men. That said, women of all shapes and sizes deserve access to effective birth control.