The House voted Wednesday to allow pharmacists who complete special training to prescribe hormonal birth control as part of a wide-ranging bill, which would also legalize vending machines that dispense over-the-counter medication including an emergency contraceptive.
The proposal will head to the state Senate for consideration after winning bipartisan support in the House, which voted 125 – 21 to pass it after a short debate.
While the bill contains several recommendations on pharmaceuticals from the Department of Consumer Protection, much of Wednesday’s floor debate centered on provisions relating to contraception.
The bill enables licensed pharmacists who voluntarily undergo a new training program to consult with patients about their health status and prescribe them an oral contraceptive.
Rep. Mike D’Agostino, a Hamden Democrat who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said that participating pharmacists would be required to advise patients of possible side effects and notify their primary care physician, if applicable.
“All of those boxes have to be checked before a prescription is made for the oral contraceptives just like any other prescription medication,” D’Agostino said.
Rep. Tracy Marra, a Darien Republican and practicing pharmacist, said the option could benefit women who lack access to medical care.
“In this state and even across the country we can see that there are areas where we don’t have access to health care for women,” Marra said. “Having access to health care be a barrier to get oral contraception for women is a non-starter.”
The proposal was opposed by more than 20 Republican legislators and four Democrats including Rep. Robyn Porter of New Haven, who voiced concerns about the bill she had heard from pharmacists.
“Some of those concerns are that it’s a pharmacy and not a doctor’s office. There’s an issue of privacy, asking questions and this vetting process or whatever it is they’re going to be doing to screen someone that wants to be on birth control,” Porter said.
She questioned how pharmacists would handle patients who had no primary care doctor and lacked documentation of their medical history. D’Agostino said that screening would be conducted instead by trained pharmacists.
“If there’s not a primary care physician, yes, this is an alternative mechanism for someone who may not have that availability to get a prescription that way,” he said. “Now, obviously if the person’s not comfortable with that process, they don’t have to go through it.”
Another section of the bill would allow temperature-controlled vending machines to dispense up to a five-day supply of over-the-counter drugs, so long as those medications had no age restriction or a requirement to show an identification. D’Agostino said that Connecticut was the only state in the nation that does not already allow the practice.
Under the proposal, vending machines would be permitted to dispense one type of emergency contraceptive commonly known as the Plan B One-Step or morning after pill. The pill is already available over the counter and without age restrictions.
“Just like aspirin, someone could walk in — now, today — to a pharmacy, pull that emergency contraceptive out, buy it at a kiosk, walk out,” D’Agostino said. “No age restrictions. Nothing else.”
The Consumer Protection Department is expected to develop regulations governing where the new vending machines could be located. D’Agostino said they will not be located at the state’s K-12 schools, where existing rules already require any type of medication to be dispensed by school nurses.
Another provision of the proposal would expand access to opioid antagonists like Narcan including through needle exchange or vending machines. Marra said the change could help residents struggling with opioid addiction in areas of the state without access to harm reduction centers.
“It is very obvious but maybe not always stated that you cannot rehab someone that’s not alive and we are losing people in our state,” she said.