The Pill

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Only one prescription drug in all of medicine has been so controversial and so popular that it can simply be called "the Pill".

When the birth control pill Enovid was granted FDA1 approval on 11 May of 1960, it had already been available on the market for two years as a treatment for gynecological disorders. The new FDA approval meant that Enovid could be prescribed by doctors specifically for the prevention of pregnancy, and it became the first drug to be prescribed to healthy patients and for social reasons.

Enovid was a high-dose hormone therapy drug developed by Gregory Pincus and pharmaceutical company GD Searle That consisted of synthetic progesterone in 10 or 5 milligram doses and .15 milligrams of estrogen. Taken daily the hormones would act the same as the same natural hormones would in a woman's body, making the body think it was pregnant so that ovulation would not occur. Enovid was virtually 100% effective when taken properly.

Approval and legalization2 of the Pill had a twofold effect on American culture, the first was immediately apparent. There was widespread perception that the Pill would lead to infidelity, promiscuity and the general decline of sexual morality. Women enjoyed greater sexual freedom without the exclusions that childbearing created, such as having a career or continuing education. It wasn't long before the Pill was seen on college campuses, and even in high schools. Demand was astonishing; in less than two years more than 1,200,000 women were taking the Pill.

The second and more serious effect was on women's health. Side effects of taking the Pill included nausea, bloating, weight gain and depression, all of which doctors deemed inconsequential given the benefit of the drug. Many women were also angered that the possible side effects had not been explained to them prior to starting the medication. Other more serious symptoms weren't immediately linked to birth control because they didn't appear to be connected to the reproduction system, such as blood clots and strokes. In the first year alone there were 132 reports of blood clots in women taking the Pill, eleven of which resulted in death.

By the late 1960s there was enough buzz about the dangers of the Pill, compounded by the book The Doctor's Case Against the Pill by Barbara Seaman, prompted US Senate hearings on the safety of the Pill. These hearings resulted in drastically lowering the dosages in the Pill making it safer, if slightly less effective. Manufacturers were also required to include a patient information sheet with every prescription of birth control pills outlining the possible side effects. High-dosage pills were removed from the American market completley in 1980, the Pill today has an average effectiveness rate of about 97%. The patient information requirements were later expanded to include all medications.

1Food and Drug Administration, this department must approve all foods and drugs prior to their being released for distribution to the American public.2At this time 30 states still had anti-birth control laws in effect.

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