TORONTO — Women who may have taken birth control pills from faulty packs should use a backup form of contraception for the time being, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada suggested Wednesday.
And women may need to talk with their doctors about taking a pregnancy test, said Dr. Jennifer Blake, the organization’s CEO.
The advice is prompted by a major birth control recall involving the drug Alysena 28. One lot of the product, bearing the number LF01899A, contained too little active drug and too much placebo, leaving women who took it vulnerable to becoming pregnant.
The lot, which contained about 50,000 faulty packets, was distributed across Canada. The company that sells the product in Canada, Apotex, believes it was not distributed to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but it cannot say with certainty that that is so, said Elie Betito, the company’s director of public and government affairs.
Women using birth control pills take the drugs for 21 days each menstrual cycle. Because of the risk that they might not remember to resume taking their pills at the right time, many oral contraceptives are packaged with a pill for each of the 28 days in a cycle — 21 are drug and seven are placebos.
Blister packs in this faulty lot contained 14 pink pills containing active drug and 14 white placebos. And just that seven-day difference could be enough to result in a pregnancy, Blake said in an interview.
“That would mean two weeks without medication and that certainly gives enough time for the ovary to release an egg,” she said. “And therefore if you have been taking that particular pill, Alysena, then it is important that you let your doctor know and indeed it may be important to follow up with a pregnancy test.”
The problem is, some women may not know they were taking this contraceptive. That’s because the drug is a generic version of the most popular birth control pill used in Canada, a drug called Alesse. (Alesse is not involved in this recall, Blake stressed.)
Some prescription drug plans require pharmacists to replace higher-priced brand-name drugs with generic versions if a generic is available. That may make it difficult to get a sense of who was on this drug, Blake says. It may also mean that women might think they are taking Alesse, because that is what their doctor prescribed, but they are actually taking Alysena.
“The problem is that it’s a generic copy of the leading birth control bill. So that’s a problem because we don’t know how many women have had their prescription substituted for the generic. And women may not know they’ve had their prescription substituted, because the generic chose a very similar name and look to the leading birth control pill. And that does create confusion in everyone’s mind.”