Wisconsin pharmacists unsure of demand for new over-the-counter birth control pill

Some pharmacists plan to carry Opill as soon as possible, but the medication may not be flying off store shelves

Three Opill boxes
Opill, the first over-the-counter birth control, will soon be available at retailers and pharmacies across the U.S. Photo courtesy of Perrigo

Wisconsin pharmacies say they plan to carry the new over-the-counter birth control pill as soon as it becomes available. But many aren’t sure what demand will be like for the daily contraceptive.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Perrigo said in a press release on Monday that Opill was on its way to “major retailers and pharmacies and will be available on shelves nationwide and online later this month.” Websites for Walgreens and CVS both advertise Opill as “coming soon.”

Kent Udulutch, pharmacist and owner of Plover Hometown Pharmacy, said the drug itself is nothing new. The medication, called norgestrel, was first approved in 1973 but has previously been available only by prescription. He said the progestin-only pill does have some advantages over more commonly-prescribed birth control pills that contain estrogen.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“The estrogen carries increased risks of cancers, so the fact that it doesn’t have an estrogen component to it is going to be a plus for safety,” he said.

But Udulutch said he doesn’t foresee people switching from their current medications in favor of Opill. He plans to only stock a small amount of the new product when it becomes available from his distributor in order to see how it sells.

Alex Berce, pharmacist and CEO of Good Value Pharmacy in Kenosha and Racine, also said he doesn’t think the medication will be flying off store shelves, despite its nationwide buzz.

“I don’t think the demand is going to be an all-at-once type of thing like we’ve seen with some of the weight loss products and the COVID vaccine,” he said.

“A lot of people are either already on birth control,” Berce continued, “or people that are looking to start birth control — that really doesn’t happen all at once — you know, it’s kind of like a slow thing that people consider and then decide to do it.”

Berce said making a daily contraceptive pill available over-the-counter is an important change and he plans to start carrying the medication as soon as possible. He said his medication wholesaler has Opill listed in its system as of Tuesday, but doesn’t have the medication available for orders yet. 

He said Opill will be a good option for people who don’t want to see a doctor for their contraceptive care. That could include people who want to save time or money by skipping a primary care visit or young people who may have recently become sexually active, potentially helping to reduce rates of unwanted pregnancy in teens.

But Berce said the cost of the medication, estimated to be $50 for a three-month supply, will likely be a barrier for low-income individuals. Especially when prescribed daily birth control bills are free under most insurance plans.

“Seeing a doctor and having it prescribed so it can be covered by insurance is ultimately going to still be the gold standard of how to make sure that care is accessible,” he said. 

While customers won’t have to see a pharmacist to purchase Opill, Udulutch said he and other providers will still be there to answer any questions about the medication. 

He said progestin-only pills have to be taken at the same time every day or the efficacy can be reduced. And he said it’s important for customers to understand it is not an emergency contraceptive like Plan B, which is also available over the counter.