Birth control patch linked to deaths, study says

Leslie Schelat

The birth control patch might protect you from pregnancy, but it could open you up to other health problems.

The Associated Press recently released results of a study showing that women who use the birth control patch, Ortho Evra, have a three times greater risk of dying from a blood clot than women on the pill.

The study confirmed that among non-smoking women under age 35 who used Ortho Evra, three in 200,000 died from blood clots believed to be related to the patch. One in 200,000 died while on the pill.

In reports obtained by the AP, of the 800,000 women who used the patch in 2004, a total of 12 died and dozens more experienced strokes and other blood clot- related problems.

Nicole Ingram, junior radiologic technology major, said this risk is one reason she will never use the patch.

“It makes me nervous,” she said. During clinicals, “I’ve seen a lot of people in surgery for blood clots. It’s scary.”

Ortho Evra was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2001 and went on the market in 2002. Neither the FDA nor Ortho Evra’s manufacturer, Ortho-McNeil, agree with the findings.

According to the AP, Ortho-McNeil has not determined any relationship between the use of the patch and the deaths. The company contends that over 2 million women used Ortho Evra in 2004, not 800,000, putting the chance of death at the same level as the pill.

“When you think about how many cases might be related to the patch, it’s the same as when you compare it to the pill,” said Sue Hirt, Planned Parenthood’s director of patient services for Portage, Summit and Medina Counties. “They haven’t proven anything yet.”

Since it was introduced, the Ortho Evra birth control patch has become a common alternative to the decades-old pill.

Some women prefer the patch because they do not have to remember to take a pill every day.

“It’s only once a week,” incoming freshman Patricia Dionne said. “It’s much easier for me to remember to do something once a week than every day.”

Ortho Evra is worn for three weeks of the month and is changed weekly. The thin plastic square releases hormones directly into the blood stream. In contrast, the pill is taken once a day and hormones in the pill must be absorbed through the intestines before entering the blood.

Estrogen, the hormone in birth control, causes human blood to thicken. Some doctors associate the direct absorption of hormones from the patch with the more-frequent development of blood clots. Others believe that women using the patch are already at a higher risk because they may be using it after bad reactions to the pill or may be new to hormone birth control.

The only warnings for Ortho Evra say that risks of using the patch are similar to those of the pill, and the risk of blood clots in comparison to the pill is unknown.

“Anyone that comes in and requests the patch,” said Hirt, “we go over the risks and benefits with them. I think they should take that seriously.”

Despite the risks, Dionne is not concerned about her increased chance of health problems.

“It’s like tanning,” she said. “They tell you that you’ll get cancer from that, and it doesn’t stop me from going. I’m just not worried about it.”

Contact social services reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].