Morning-After Pills May Be Ineffective For Women Over 176 Pounds, Research Shows

This seems like it could have some pretty important implications. HRA Pharma, a French emergency contraceptive pill manufacturer, has announced that its pill, Norlevo, does not work for women over 176 pounds. Furthermore, the pill starts to lose effectiveness in women weighing over 165 pounds. From now on, Norlevo's packaging information will include the new information on weight limits. The announcement arrives two years after a University of Edinburgh released a study showing that morning-after pills like tended to fail in heavier-set women.

But should women across the pond worry? While no American manufacturers have announced similar warnings for morning-after pills, women west of the Atlantic should still heed HRA Pharma's warning. Each Norlevo tablet contains 0.75-1.5 mg of levonorgestrel — the same ingredient in American morning-after pills. Plan B contains 0.75mg of levonorgestrol, and Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way all contain 1.5mg of levonorgestrel: different names, but the same drug as Norlevo.

More women in the U.S. will be affected than you might expect. A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the average woman in the United States aged 20-40 weighs between 161.9 and 169.1 pounds. For non-Hispanic black women ages 20-39 the average weight is 186.2 pounds, which is well over the point when Norlevo stops working altogether.

So far, Mother Jones reports that the manufacturers behind My Way and Next Choice One Dose have declined comment.

Because the Food and Drug Administration prohibits generic drug manufacturers from changing product information unless the brand name manufacturer makes a change, companies that manufacture generic versions of Plan B One-Step cannot update their packaging information unless Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the exclusive manufacturer of Plan B One-Step, acts first. (The FDA has proposed a rule change that would allow generic manufacturers to update drug information independently.) A spokeswoman for Teva declined to comment for this article.

It is not clear whether drugmakers can formulate an effective levonorgestrel pill for women who weigh more than 165 pounds. "A dose increase of levonorgestrel is not proven to be a solution for this problem," notes Gajek, the HRA Pharma spokeswoman. "However, women with higher weight are advised to discuss alternative emergency contraceptive options with their physician: IUD or alternative oral emergency contraceptive." In the United States, IUD insertion can cost anywhere from $500 to $900.

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