If I hadn’t already felt like a pawn in the eyes of the pharmaceutical industry — another warm body off of which to profit — I sure do today.  Drug manufacturers are educating women about yet another new condition it can cure: too many periods.  I discovered the new condition on the back of the May/June issue of  ”Nurse Practitioner World News” sticking out of my mailbox.  An advertisement for Seasonique™,  an oral contraceptive offering “fewer periods, and now more savings, ” proudly displays a vibrant, healthy, happy, Patagonia-clad woman is enjoying a fresh walk down the beach. She is walking in confidence — period free!

Seasonique advertisement

The concept is alluring. You want control AND you want to be natural. Maybe this is your body in harmony with the four seasons?!

What is so disturbing about this new birth control pill is not that it is available, but that the pharmaceutical industry has positioned itself to convince physicians, nurse-practitioners and midwives that it ‘knows’ what women want.   Suddenly big pharma understands the needs and desires of fifth-wave feminists?

I’ve used the pill (also called OCPs, or “oral contraceptives”) a few times in my teens and twenties.  Back then, birth control pills seemed like the best fit for me. They weren’t messy, they weren’t scary in the way that IUDs or injections were, or freaky the way implants were.  And they worked.  The pill was commonly pushed by OB/GYNs as such a benign medication that women could essentially forget they were taking a daily dose of synthetic hormones every day — I did, until I recognized that some of my new symptoms were the result of the additional hormone load.  I remember feeling like some other entity had come in and taken up residence in my body.  In a sense, I lost connection with myself.

Despite my personal experiences with birth control pills, I am ALL for choices in contraception.  I do wish the trade-off for effective birth control was not exposure to more exogenous hormones and an increased risk of certain cancers.  Pills like Seasonique™  expose women to an additional 13 weeks of exogenous hormones over the regular combined OCPs.  As an American woman I have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime — much higher odds than developing ovarian or uterine cancer.  Birth control pills slightly decrease the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer, while potentially increasing the risk of breast and liver cancer in some women.

In 2006, the Mayo Clinic determined that women who used the pill before their first pregnancies had a 44% higher risk of breast cancer than women who had not used the pill.  Yet, in a MAYO article discussing the use of birth control pills, the only noteworthy side effect mentioned is spotting.  ”You may notice bleeding or spotting between periods (breakthrough bleeding) when you extend the number of days between periods.”

Beyond the cancer risk, decades of research on traditional OCPs is clear about the other major risks including heart disease, stroke, and blood clots.  There are NO  long-term studies (more than a few years) on birth control pills like Seasonique™ to alter our cycles and eradicate a portion of our menses.

What price are we willing to pay for “seasonal” periods,  now that they are an option? Are we willing to be guinea pigs?

 

Seasonique™ can limit our monthly menses to mere seasonal inconveniences — until Annuelle™ comes on the market.

While doing a quick search for background information on Seasonique™  I learned that in 2004 the pharmaceutical industry is estimated to have spent spend $57.5 BILLION dollars on advertising.  Yes, that’s almost 58 BILLION dollars on advertising.  (Did that register?)  Big pharma spends TWICE as much on advertising as it spends on research, quality and safety control, and development of existing and new medications.  I also learned that maker of Seasonique, Teva Pharmaceuticals, was sued for Medicaid fraud in 2003 by the state of Massachusetts along with 12 other drug makers.  These companies allegedly inflated the prices of their medications, causing Medicaid to waste tens of millions of dollars in inflated reimbursements.  Think about the grandparents who have to choose between eating and fulfilling their prescriptions while the folks at Teva Pharmaceuticals are raking in obscene profits.  All 13 companies in the Mass Medicaid fraud suit settled, returning roughly $23 million dollars back to the state’s Medicaid program.

It is no secret that drug companies have a major influence over which drugs physicians prescribe.  In 2000, drug companies spent over $20 BILLION dollars on private sales meetings between their drug reps and physicians.  Big pharma knows from experience that targeting susceptible physicians will ensure humongous profits. A former drug rep for Eli Lilly describes the nature of the drug rep/physician relationship:

It’s my job to figure out what a physician’s price is. For some it’s dinner at the finest restaurants, for others it’s enough convincing data to let them prescribe confidently and for others it’s my attention and friendship…but at the most basic level, everything is for sale and everything is an exchange.    —Shahram Ahari

Think about this the next time you are discussing birth control options with your OB/GYN — or any medications for that matter.  I would like to believe that ethics would prevail and providers would place true informed choice about the risks and benefits of medications above cozy perks from the drug reps.  But I recall my own experiences.  I fear for young women going in for well-woman exams and birth control.  They are likely to come home with free packs of pills, completely unaware of the money, advertising, and unethical schmoozing involved in getting those pills to the providers desk.

I want the pharmaceutical industry to adopt a shred of decency and stop inventing and selling made-up conditions to women, and start spending more money on making safer drugs than on advertising them to us.  I want honest discussion about the possible risks. I want safer choices.  What do you want?

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  1. MXeno #
    July 28, 2011

    Welllll…I enjoy pregnancy & nursing so very MUCH b/c part of it means I am NOT having a period! :) In fact…the longer I breast feed (even if I’ve weaned) the longer it takes for my period to come back! 28 months of nursing, 11 months post nursing, plus 18 months total of pregnancy means in the last 8 years I have missed periods for almost FIVE YEARS. I am also overweight right now…And for me, that means no periods. I enjoy not having a period, but I do not enjoy being FAT!

    I have never used a hormonal birth control…I prefer non-hormonal options & currently use a diaphragm. I feel like…If my body is naturally having (or not having) periods…I should not interrupt that. My body “knows best” and if being fat means my body thinks I should not be having babies (and therefore not ovulating)…then I will believe it. :)

    I don’t know about big pharma or making up conditions (I know my sister would get rid of her periods if she could)…but I know that I read a study…many many many years ago that talked about “modern” women and the rise in cancers. And that many women in the past would have many babies…and breastfeed their babies…And this meant they had many less periods than today’s woman. And maybe less periods is okay. (Although I doubt that means less periods by way of a hormone pill!) But I am not a scientist…or a doctor…Just a woman who enjoys not having her periods. Pre-kids my period was not terrible, and just a minor inconvenience. Post-kids I sit at home & gush for 3 days…and then it lightens for the last 4.

  2. August 8, 2011

    There’s also a societal element, totally supported (created?) by advertising from pharma companies and general feminine hygiene” products that encourages women to see their periods as bad, dirty, and inconvenient. And I get that it’s not always a pleasant thing, but what if we shifted how we think about it? I have a friend who recently told me that her period was her favorite time of the month, because she feels connected to her body, she feels cleansed, she feels beautiful. It was like a revelation for me to think of my period as a vital, beautiful part of me instead of some outside force–the way its presented in advertisements like the one you tak about here–that is inflicted on me.

    • Samantha Bice #
      December 10, 2011

      I love the comment that your friend made. I had a similar experience when I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. That book opened my eyes to how AWESOME our bodies are, and how everything is so in sync and perfect.

      I tried to take hormonal BC when I was younger, before I got married. It messed with me…no matter what type I used. I threw up (like morning sickness) every month, for at least a week. I was moody and not a happy person to be around. I tried the NuvaRing, and that had all those side effects, plus making my vagina feel like an oil spill all month. I gave up on all those crazy things, and I chart now. I feel so connected to my body, since I know what is happening inside it now at any given time.

  3. Lea #
    August 22, 2011

    When I first started my period at the age of 12, it became my nemisis. I would hurt so bad on the second day that I could barely concentrate and I was physically exhausted. Every fourth month, that second day would be so bad, I would spend all day in the bathroom sicking up all day – even if that meant missing school, work, or other important events. This went on for six years and finally my mom took me to the gyno. Did they recommend a natural remedy, a way to treat my symptoms? No, my doctor immediately put me on Seasonal – which is just a weaker version of Seasonique. After several months, I got sick (unrelated) and I had gone back for a check up to see how I was doing on the birth control. Since I was still having a period every month (though, like Seasonique, I wasn’t supposed to) she switched me to the higher dose Seasonique and told me to stop taking the period week pills, in effect completely removing my monthly period! When asked if that was okay, she said no problem.

    Then, two and a half years later – after years of clean bills of health and settling down into a monogamous relationship – I got a bad result on my pap smear. Over the next year, I had to undergo a series of uterine biopsies, electro/cryo treatments to remove dysplasia from my uterus, and the Gardasil vaccine. Only to be told that it’s likely caused by my active sex life or possibly my body producing too many hormones. So I asked my doctor if my birth control could be the problem, and she dismissed my fears with a laugh and the shake of her head. I still don’t know if the huge amounts of hormones – with no break for my body to do what comes naturally – is what caused it since I hadn’t been promiscuous since well before my last pap, which had come up clean.

    And then, after seven years on Seasonal/Seasonique, I started having mood swings – violent, terrifying mood swings that included suicidal thoughts and near misses. It was after a night where my husband and to wrestle me to the floor until I calmed down that we decided that enough was enough. I was tired of sitting outside my body and watching in horror as I lashed out at my husband and myself for no reason. Two months after I stopped taking the birth control, I leveled out and I haven’t had a mood swing like it in the last year and a half. All because my doctor would rather subscribe this new “wonder drug” that look at what was really going on in my body.

    Women’s health needs to stop being a fashion plate for the most “trendy” treatments to be sold to women with the dangers in fine print that we can’t see. The worst part about this whole thing, was this wasn’t subscribed by a man who would never have to worry about what the effects of what I was being given would have on him – I was given this, without warning or seeming knowledge about the dangerous side effects, by my WOMAN gyno. Thank you for passing this important information on!

  4. MarieIII #
    August 22, 2011

    I think I would fall into the “market demand” portion of this, long before this was an option offered by big pharma my ob/gyn had me using regular birth control and extending time between periods. On both ortho tricycline and yaz I was able to go from 3-4 months without periods just by skipping over the inert tablets and continuing on with the active tablets. I never had a problem with the doctor providing additional sample packets as I would exceed what insurance would cover by skipping those weeks of pills and thus consuming more birth control than prescribed.

    My issue wasn’t totally convenience related. I am one of the unlucky women who suffer with PMDD and I also have IBS and the periods wreaked havoc on my system so skipping them gave me much desired relief. I did this for five years from 18-23 until I had a Mirena IUD placed which completely knocks out the periods.

    My first Mirena was inserted due to taking medications that would have had horrible affects on a developing child had I become pregnant during that time, after it expired with the thought of wanting to get pregnant sooner than five years I switched to birth control and that is when I felt the hormone affects and when I re-discovered that periods still were not good for my system. I was only on birth control for 8 months and when I went in to have my next Mirena placed I was going into my fourth month of continuous birth control which was yaz and not designed for this. So it seems that all birth control really has this ability and has the ability to do it quickly (well for me at least). I wish that companies like this wouldn’t act as though they are the only option for extending or postponing periods – you can do this with pretty much any pill.

    Sensonique and Seasonale are simply a different brand of birth control in my opinion and for women who don’t have health providers like mine that tried to match the birth control that worked best for me with what I needed then support my intentions to avoid periods by providing adequate samples it does give that option to women. What I learned during my break from the IUD is that the only reason for the new formula of this brand is that the old one expired and is now available as a generic so they are marketing the new one more aggressively to avoid market loss.

    It is all sales and hype in some ways, but then I am a woman who really struggles with periods and various options of birth control have given me the ability to alleviate that. Now that I am scheduling to have my IUD removed and planning for TTC I am finding more about women having trouble conceiving after the IUD so I have another hurdle.

    It really does seem like there should be a better option for birth control out there and I just can’t wrap my head around the lack of it.

  5. jessica #
    September 19, 2011

    I was a rep at Teva and sold this product – it just went generic – but the issue I had when I sold it and still have is that it is just a repackaged older birth control pill. It seemed wrong to charge people a ridiculous amount of money for a gimmic. Doc’s could extend your cycle with any pill on the market – just don’t take the placebo week. All Teva (well actually Duramed) did was package it all in one box. Pharma sales is a game and the clinicians that are smart know how to leverage the reps info and resources – those are the smart ones. Unfortunately there are a lot out there that are not very savy.

  6. September 24, 2011

    Sorry Erin, I was hoping to leave a comment on the blog post about Amy Tuteur. I myself am trying to combat the lies spread by Dr. Amy and her followers. They relentlessly write all over the internet that homebirth is dangerous and CPMs are dangerous. I intend on dispelling every single one of their lies. I have recently started a blog and wrote a post about the truth about homebirth. I hope you will come and read what I have written so far! Thanks Erin!

  7. April 26, 2012

    This pill was offered to my daughter by her midwife, with the opening line, “So, are you really attached to your periods? Some women are, but I say, the less the better!”

  8. Jeannette #
    June 29, 2012

    NFP baby! Yeah, these period elimination pills look like a great way to lose all fertility…….

  9. just sayin' #
    August 30, 2012

    What about the idea that we modern women actually experience negative health consequences from having so many menstrual cycles? Women throughout history have been pregnant or lactating for much greater portions of their fertile years than women today, and although I don’t have the citations, there have been studies done to this effect. From an evolutionary perspective, it would make sense that we would have evolved to be healthy with numbers of ovulatory cycles similar to women of the past as compared to monthly. Not to mention that ANY of the “periods” you have with OCPs are not real periods but rather artificial withdraw bleeds anyhow.

  10. Mop #
    October 14, 2012

    I love the idea of no period. I started Seasonique about 3 years ago to turn it off. I loved the pill. However, over that same period I’ve lost about 50% of my hair. After researching the ‘net I found that many other people have had this same experience – or worse. I really hate having to go back to bleeding all the time but I really don’t want to be bald. I can’t believe how much hair I’ve lost. :(

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