Recent revelations that nearly 600 women in the U.K. have reported becoming pregnant after being implanted with the Implanon have raised questions among some people about the effectiveness of the birth control implant.
According to information released earlier this month by the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), 584 women have reported unwanted pregnancies while using Merck & Co.’s Implanon contraceptive implant. In the last 12 years, about 1,600 women have had complaints about the device, including adverse reactions and scarring.
The U.K.’s National Health Services has paid more than $300,000 to nine women who experienced unwanted pregnancies after being implanted with the devices. MHRA officials have said that some of the pregnancies could be due to incorrect implantation of the devices.
The Implanon is a small, toothpick sized implant that is placed just under the skin in a woman’s upper arm. It releases the progestin etonogestrel and is supposed to prevent pregnancy for a three-year period. It is the only contraceptive implant approved in the U.K.
In the United States, Implanon was approved by the FDA in July 2006. Since then about 500,000 American women have had the birth control implant inserted. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Implanon has the highest efficacy rate among all of the current approved means of birth control in the United States.
Merck officials and some British health officials say that concerns about the device are overblown. They point out that there are 1.3 million users in the U.K. and less than 600 reports of unwanted pregnancies, indicating that about .04 percent of all users is in line with the Implanon’s estimated 99.95 percent efficacy rates.
Some doctors in the U.K. are concerned that fears about Implanon effectiveness may have negative effects on teen pregnancy. Implanon is heavily promoted in the U.K. for use in sexually active teenagers because it does not require them to remember to take a pill or insert something and the three-year time period can cover a significant amount of the teen years.
Similar concerns were echoed by a group of Canadian doctors this month, who indicated that mounting fears over the side effects of Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills, manufactured by Bayer, may scare some women away from using oral contraceptives and increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.