Trail pharmacies respond to birth control warnings

Local reactions to recent reports from Health Canada regarding the deaths linked to Yasmin birth control medication.

A Trail pharmacist plans to rid his shelf of two brands of birth-control pills that have been linked to 23 deaths in the country.

Health Canada released a report of over 600 adverse reactions to Bayer’s Yaz and Yasmin products that were connected to women taking the contraceptives between 2007 and Feb. 28 of this year.

Doctors and pharmacists who submitted the findings to the Canada Vigilance Program said most women, more than half under 26 years old and one as young as 14, died suddenly after developing blood clots.

Known in the medical world as “newer-generation” birth-control pills, the contraceptives are produced using drospirenone, a synthetic progestin exclusively produced by Bayer.

“I wasn’t surprised because there’s a lot of data suggesting hormones such as those found in birth control are associated with clots and adverse cardiovascular outcomes,” said Lee Boyer, pharmacist and part owner of Pharmasave in Trail.

“It says maybe we’re playing with something that isn’t as safe as we thought it was and though the numbers are small, it would be interesting to look at how many side effects women out there taking birth control are going through.”

Boyer, who doesn’t plan to restock the products, is an advocate for protection through the use of condoms and spermicides, a way to prevent pregnancy without introducing synthetic progestogen to the body.

His job is to act as a “liaison” between patients and doctors, ultimately bridging any kind of informational gaps so a patient can make an informed decision.

The remaining Trail pharmacies ­- Shoppers Drug Mart, Peoples Drug Mart, Safeway Pharmacy and No Frill Pharmacy – plan to continue to carry these birth-control pills unless further direction is given by Health Canada.

Seventeen-year-old Renee McInnes of Fruitvale has been taking birth control for three years and has felt no side effects, aside from clearer skin – the reason she started taking Tri-Cyclen in the first place.

“They have people go on birth control to prevent certain things and some people are dying? That’s crazy,” she said.

The 2013 graduate said most of her J. L. Crowe Secondary School friends take birth control but admits most may not know much about what they’re ingesting.

“I know when I first started going on it it was because the doctor recommended it and that was that,” she said. “We never really discussed it. She prescribed it so I’m assuming it’s probably the same for a lot of other girls.”

Greater Trail women of all ages do have another place to go to talk about sexual reproductive health.

Options Sexual Health (Ops) in Trail is a drop-in clinic located at the Kiro Wellness Centre Wednesday from 4:30-7 p.m. on the first and third weeks of the month.

Based in B.C., with 60 clinics across the province, Ops is the country’s largest non-profit provider of sexual health services through clinics, educational programs and its 1800 SEX SENSE information and referral line.

Ops is still offering its patients these two birth control pills if it fits.

“The evidence linked to Yaz or Yasmin is not new. Certified nurses and physicians have been aware that there is an increased rare risk being on Yaz or Yasmin but you relay that information to all clients who are interested in using these products,” said Manav Gill, director of nursing for the organization, from her Vancouver office. “We have to remember that sometimes things are sensationalized because in reality when we talk about birth control, someone who starts on birth control actually doubles their risk of having a blood clot right away – just by starting on any birth control, that’s a fact.”

Regardless of the numbers, Boyer said the report is just a reminder that there is much to learn about introducing hormones into the body that aren’t natural.

“They’re deaths, right, so we’re not talking about adverse effects and statistics,” he said. “Someone died so you weigh that against birth control and all the other options for birth control so it’s a good slap in the face to say, ‘let’s look at this and reevaluate it,’ instead of dispensing a refill.”

Boyer said physical signs of a potential blood clot include excruciating pain, often found in the leg but sometimes in the lungs, which disrupts breathing, too.

Other signs that the pill may not be a good choice for you is side effects such as nausea and mood swings.

He hopes that the younger generation of women are receptive to what their body is telling them and feel comfortable approaching this subject.

“If you look at society in general, I feel that there is a huge pressure on women to fit into a certain mold,” he said. “That your fertility has to be controlled and then when you’re ready to have a baby, then that has to be turned off.

“I just feel like natural hormones and a natural hormone cycle within a female is important and it gets neglected when we just give them these synthetic hormones. I think there needs to be a lot more respect for the female menstrual cycle before we start controlling it with things that we’re not sure about the safety of.”