In an ideal world, you would never have to worry about manufacturing problems with your birth control. Sadly, in the real world, pill packaging errors sometimes happen. These errors have been getting a lot of attention lately, with more than 100 women suing one pill maker, Qualitest, over pregnancies that resulted from pill packaging errors.
In this case, the multiple brands of pills were recalled by the FDA in 2011, and several other brands from other companies have been recalled in the years since. So these types of errors aren’t common, but they do happen periodically.
So what can pill users do?
You should be able to use your birth control as instructed and count on it to protect you from pregnancy. Period. That said, it never hurts to be informed about your method. Always talk to your pharmacist or health care provider if something seems strange about your birth control or it’s label or packaging.
For pill users specifically, here are a few things to pay attention to:
Colors. If your pill packs include placebo or sugar pills, they will be a different color from the active pills. Get to know the colors of your pills and the order they come in. Check to make sure the colors are in the right order in a new pack. FYI, progestin-only pills and some combined brands have only active pills, so the pills may all be one color.
Expiration date. Check for an expiration date on your birth control. In the Qualitest case, the packaging errors made it so the expiration date wasn’t visible. Each pill pack should have an expiration date visible, and that date should be more than a month in the future.
Lot numbers. Packaging errors also sometimes make lot numbers invisible. Each pill pack should have a lot number printed on the foil backing. If you see a lot number but you notice something else unusual about your pill pack, you can use the lot number to search the FDA’s website to see if your pill has been recalled.
Where does the FDA fit into this?
Every year the FDA issues recalls for various foods and drugs. (You can see for yourself on their flickr profile. Yikes.) Recalls often happen because consumers speak up when they notice a problem with a product. All of these birth control pill recalls started when a woman noticed that her pill packaging was off.
The takeaway: If your pill pack seems strange, report it to a pharmacist, health care provider, or directly to FDA Medwatch. You never know—your eagle eye could save you and other pill users from relying on a faulty product.