CVS and Walgreens to start selling abortion pills this month

The two largest pharmacy chains in the United States will begin dispensing the abortion pill mifepristone this month, a step that could make it easier for some patients to access it.

CVS and Walgreens officials said in interviews Friday that they had received certification to dispense mifepristone under guidelines the Food and Drug Administration issued last year. The chains plan to make the drug initially available in stores in some states. They will not provide the medication by mail.

Both chains said they would gradually expand to all other states where abortion was legal and where pharmacies could legally dispense abortion pills — about half of the states.

President Biden said in a statement Friday that the availability of the pill in pharmacies was “an important milestone in ensuring access to mifepristone, a medication that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for more 20 years.”

“I encourage all pharmacies that want to pursue this option to seek certification,” he added.

Walgreens will begin supplying the pill next week at a small number of its pharmacies in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Illinois, said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for the chain. “We are beginning a phased rollout in select locations to allow us to ensure the quality, safety and privacy of our patients, providers and team members,” he said.

CVS will begin dispensing at all of its pharmacies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island “in the coming weeks,” said company spokeswoman Amy Thibault.

The networks will monitor the outlook in some states, including Kansas, Montana and Wyoming, where abortion bans or strict limitations have been enacted but are prohibited due to legal challenges.

Engerman said Walgreens was “not going to dispense in states where the laws are unclear” to protect its pharmacists and staff members.

As for CVS, “we continually monitor and evaluate changes in state laws and will dispense mifepristone in any state where it is or is legally permitted to do so,” Ms. Thibault said. In some states where abortion is legal, she said, pharmacists are prohibited from dispensing mifepristone because laws require them to do so by doctors or in a hospital or clinic.

It is unknown how much initial demand there will be for the service at brick-and-mortar pharmacies. In states where chains will begin dispensing them, abortion pills are already available in clinics or are easily prescribed via telemedicine and delivered by mail. But some women prefer to visit the doctor, many of whom do not have the medication on hand. The new development will allow doctors and other eligible providers to send a prescription to a pharmacy for the patient to pick up.

“Now that doctors no longer have to store and dispense the medication themselves, the likelihood increases that a patient will be able to go to their own doctor, the person they already have a relationship with, and say, ‘I’m pregnant, I can’t.’ ‘. I don’t want to be,’” said Kirsten Moore, director of the Expanding Abortion Access to Medication Project.

He said it could also encourage more doctors and other health care providers to obtain the special certification the FDA requires for those who prescribe mifepristone. The steps to becoming a certified prescriber are simple, but some doctors have been deterred by the paperwork and logistics of having to order and store pills.

As availability at retail pharmacies expands, they may become a more popular alternative, and depending on the outcome of a case the Supreme Court will hear later this month, the drugstore option could take on more importance.

In that case, abortion opponents have sued the FDA, seeking to remove mifepristone from the market in the United States. An appeals court ruling in that case didn’t go that far, but it effectively banned mailing mifepristone and required in-person doctor visits. If the Supreme Court upholds that ruling, it could mean patients would have to obtain mifepristone by visiting a clinic or doctor. If such a ruling allowed pharmacies to continue dispensing, more patients would be able to obtain the medication there.

Abortion opponents criticized the pharmacy chains’ decision. “As two of the largest and most trusted ‘health’ brands in the world, CVS and Walgreens’ decision to sell dangerous abortion drugs is shameful, and the harm to fetuses and their mothers is incalculable,” said Katie Daniel, director of Susan’s state policies. B. Anthony Pro-Life America, she said in a statement.

To obtain certification, pharmacy chains had to take specific steps, including ensuring that their computer systems protected the privacy of prescribers, who are certified under a special program that the FDA applies to mifepristone and several dozen other drugs. .

Pharmacy certification is provided by the manufacturers of mifepristone. Walgreens received certification from brand name manufacturer Danco Laboratories and is seeking certification from generic manufacturer GenBioPro, Engerman said. CVS was certified by GenBioPro.

Medication abortion is a two-drug regimen that is now the most common method of terminating pregnancies in the United States and is typically used up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone, which blocks a hormone necessary for pregnancy development, is taken first, followed 24 to 48 hours later by misoprostol, which causes contractions that expel pregnancy tissue.

The same regimen is also used for spontaneous abortions, and those patients can now also obtain mifepristone at chain pharmacies.

Mifepristone has been strictly regulated by the FDA since its approval in 2000. It was previously available primarily through prescribers or telemedicine abortion clinics or services, in which the pills were typically shipped from one of two retail pharmacies. by authorized mail. Misoprostol has never been as restricted as mifepristone and is used for many different medical conditions. It is easily obtained from pharmacies through a typical prescription process.

The American Pharmacists Association urged the FDA to allow retail pharmacies to distribute mifepristone, even though the drug is unlikely to generate significant revenue. In a declaration Last year, the association said it wanted the agency to “level the playing field by allowing any pharmacy that decided to dispense this product to become certified.”

Shortly after the FDA policy change was announced in January 2023, Walgreens and CVS said they planned to become certified and offer mifepristone in states where laws would allow pharmacies to dispense it.

Walgreens later became the focus of a political and consumer storm after responding to threatening letters from Republican attorneys general in 21 states, confirming that it would not dispense the drug in those states.

Both chains have had protests outside their stores, mostly by anti-abortion advocates, and similar protesters disrupted a shareholder meeting at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the chain’s parent company.

CVS is the nation’s largest chain with more than 9,000 stores in all 50 states. Walgreens has about 8,500 stores in every state except North Dakota. Neither network wanted to discuss the price of the drug, but both noted that some insurance policies would cover it in some states.

TO a handful of small independent pharmacies started dispensing mifepristone last year.