Lots of Countries Don't Require Prescriptions for Oral Contraceptives

Are their women any worse off than ours? Why don't we find out?

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 12:59 AM EDT

A few days ago I wrote a post about whether oral contraceptives ought to be available without a prescription. They're pretty safe, it turns out, and several studies suggest that women are a whole lot more likely to use them continuously if they don't have to go in for a doctor's exam every year and aren't limited to buying just a month's supply at a time. Anna Reisman adds some more detail to this issue today, but the most intriguing bit came at the very end of her post. It's a link to a map showing where oral contraceptives require a prescription and where they don't. Here it is:

Here's what's interesting: although prescriptions are required in most of the rich world, there are plenty of middling-income countries where they aren't, including Portugal, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, and several others. Surely this means that loads of data is available about health outcomes where prescriptions aren't required. Do women in Portugal have a greater number of dangerous pill-related interactions than women in Spain? Do women in South Korea have more allergic reactions than women in Japan? Do women in Greece have more problems with antibiotics than women in Italy?

It's not surprising that rich countries have more formal regulations in place than less-rich countries. But surely this provides us with a wealth of information about whether there are any systematic negative effects from allowing women access to over-the-counter oral contraceptives. So where are the studies?