Get out the condoms — 1 million packets of birth control pills were recalled last week due to a packaging error by the manufacturer that may render the medication useless.
Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant behind products like Viagra, Chapstick and Zoloft, announced on Jan. 31 that some Lo/Ovral-28 and Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets “could leave women without adequate contraception, and at risk for unintended pregnancy.” About 30 birth control packets contain the wrong number of either inactive or active pills, and the pills may be out of sequence, according to a public statement released by Pfizer.
“This is like Willy Wonka, but in a bad way. Like, you don’t want to get the golden ticket,” said Ryan Arredondo, a business economics sophomore who said his older sister takes birth control pills.
After a customer complained about a packaging issue late last year, Pfizer discovered that, due to a mechanical error, some birth control packs may have been assembled incorrectly, according to Grace Ann Arnold, director of global media relations at Pfizer Global Supply Communications. The cause of the error has been identified and corrected, but the company recommends that those taking the affected pills start using non-hormonal birth control and contact their doctors immediately, Arnold said in an emailed response.
Most birth control packets include 21 tablets that contain active ingredients, as well as seven inactive tablets, or placebo pills. Using the pills incorrectly can diminish their efficacy, according to Kim Birmingham, chief pharmacist at Campus Health Service.
While it is impossible to know how many people on the UA campus have been impacted by the mistake, the Campus Health Service pharmacy does distribute, and is recalling, Lo/Ovral-28, Birmingham said.
The pharmacy received news of the recall earlier last month, before the public was aware of the issue.
“At first I thought it was rather odd that it wasn’t out to the consumer level because of the way that the tablets supposedly were possibly out of line,” Birmingham said.
Soon after the company issued the initial recall to its retailers, the FDA’s assessment of the situation required that the information be distributed to its consumers as well, according to Arnold.
“I think they (Pfizer) felt they had it (the situation) under control, but once it got out to the public, the media took control of it and just went crazy,” Birmingham said. “I don’t know if it’s as severe as the media is making it out to be.”
Pfizer’s announcement follows an even larger birth control recall by Qualitest Products, Inc., which took eight brands, 1.4 million packages, of its oral contraceptives off the market in September of last year. About 11.2 million U.S. women aged 15 to 44 use birth control and 86 percent of them rely upon the medication to prevent pregnancy, according to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2011.
“It just shows how seriously we need to take women’s health as a country and make sure that the science is being accurate, because it’s putting people’s lives at risk,” said Olukemi Oso, a chemistry sophomore and chair of the media and marketing committee at F.O.R.C.E., an internship program at the Women’s Resource Center. “This just reminds us that they (drug manufacturers) are not necessarily looking out for women’s best interests. It is still a big pharmaceutical company,” she said.
Despite the recall, Birmingham said she would continue to recommend birth control pills to patients.
“I don’t think you can take an instance where they recall it and then turn that into where birth control pills don’t work properly,” she said.
Still, others believe the recall emphasizes the need for comprehensive sex education and serves as a warning to women who rely on oral contraceptives as their sole method of birth control.
“Women put a lot of trust in terms of their physical health in the hands of pharmaceutical companies,” said Stephanie Smith, a VISTA leader at the UA Cooperative Extension. “I feel like women’s bodies have been a testing ground for hormone replacement therapy for about 40 years.”