Birth control sales down nationally, up at UA

By Alexis Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 21, 2005

A government study reported the number of sexually active women using birth control is on the decline, but Campus Health officials say they have not seen evidence of such a decline on campus, where oral contraceptives account for nearly half of all prescriptions filled.

Campus Health Service fills 200 to 250 birth control prescriptions each day, making oral contraceptives 47 percent of all prescriptions filled, said Jana Knutson, a Campus Health pharmacist.

"A lot of our business is birth control," Knutson said.

However, use of the pill is down nationwide, according to a federal government analysis of contraceptive use released last month.

The findings showed the number of sexually active adult women who chose not to use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002, sparking some concern among health professionals that unwanted pregnancies could increase by as much as 11 percent.

But Knutson said the amount of birth control prescriptions filled by Campus Health has remained steadily high in recent years, and although she was unable to provide exact statistics from 1995, she estimated the numbers were about the same then as now.

Despite the number of birth control prescriptions filled on campus, Lee Ann Hamilton, a health educator at Campus Health, worries there are still students who don't have adequate information on birth control.

"I'm surprised sometimes how little students know about reproduction and contraception options," said Hamilton, who gives sex education talks in residence halls and to the greek system.

Hamilton said she suspects even students who have the information often take dangerous risks by forgoing birth control.

"I think a lot of students gamble with their fertility in terms of having unprotected sex," she said.

Hamilton said evidence that women's birth control use has declined nationally is cause for concern, especially since there are a greater variety of contraceptive options today than 10 years ago.

Campus Health offers 22 varieties of oral contraception, ranging in price from $20 to $25 a month on average, Knutson said.

Hamilton said the national decline in birth control use could be related to the cost of the pill or to an increase in women who cannot afford insurance.

Although the study did not offer reasons for the decline, some health professionals have considered cost, lack of sexual education or an increased desire to have children as possible contributing factors.

Hamilton said she worries the increase in federal funding for abstinence-only programs in public schools will result in fewer young men and women knowing about birth control options.

"I wouldn't be surprised that some (incoming) U of A students have less information on contraception because of a rise in abstinence-only programs," Hamilton said. "In some ways we're going backwards by offering less information."

This year, under the Bush administration, nearly $170 million will fund groups that teach abstinence-only sexual education.

Some students avoid birth control pills because of concerns of possible side effects, a common concern amongst many women, Hamilton said.

Emily Cory, an ecology and evolutionary biology senior, said she avoids the pill, in part because of health concerns.

"I have a strong history of breast cancer in my family, so I don't want to go messing around with hormones that might increase the risk," Cory said.

However, Hamilton said birth control pills have actually been proven to reduce risks of certain cancers, like ovarian cancer, and said there are more immediate health risks associated with pregnancy than with using the pill.

Caroline Schiller, a psychology freshman, said she is surprised the number of women using birth control has declined nationally and said she wishes Campus Health would fill even more prescriptions for the pill.

Schiller said she had sex education at her Texas high school and said her mother made it a point to ensure her daughter was on birth control before starting college.

Schiller said she thinks the pill is an important option for all women entering college to consider.

"College is a big transition," she said. "You never know what might happen."