What's in your Pill? Update

Planned Parenthood opposes petition to ban desogestrel-based contraceptives.

Published February 14, 2007 8:59PM (EST)

Broadsheet reported last week that watchdog group Public Citizen had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban oral contraceptives containing the hormone desogestrel, said to be twice as likely as others to cause blood clots. As it turns out, Planned Parenthood is worried that such a petition may be twice as likely as others to cause unwarranted concern. "Desogestrel pills should not be taken off the market; they are safe and very effective," Vanessa Cullins, Planned Parenthood's V.P. for medical affairs, told Bloomberg News. To ban these pills outright, she says, would be throwing out their benefits with the bathwater; some physicians report positive side effects that can, for some women, outweigh the still relatively low risk of clotting. And speaking of risks, there's also the concern that bad ink could cause some women to toss their pills altogether.

Public Citizen, however, is unyielding. In a phone conversation with Broadsheet today, Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, argued that desogestrel-based pills have no proven benefit over any others. He cited a 1999 letter from the FDA to the pills' manufacturer stating that "claims that imply that Desogen is superior to other oral contraceptive products because it has less side effects (i.e. hirsutism [unwanted hair] or weight gain) are false or misleading because they lack adequate substantiation from well-controlled clinical trials." (For more particulars, read the petition.) "Our logic has been that if it is apparent that a given drug has unique risks and no unique benefit it should go off the market," Wolfe said. "There's no medical or scientific reason why anyone would want to take these pills if they knew all the information that's available."

Here's the bottom line: Talk to your doctor specifically about which formulation is best for you. Ideally, not one of these doctors.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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