Opinions, Column

“The Pill” at BC: An Important Warning on Side Effects

Let’s talk about safe sex and everything that goes with it. 

Although there are student organizations on Boston College’s campus doing a great deal of work to support healthy conversations about safe sex, BC refuses to acknowledge their work or provide support of its own through University Health Services (UHS). As a result, important information regarding students’ health and well-being slips through the cracks. 

BC’s sex issues begin with UHS. After all, everyone seems to have a story of how UHS failed to accurately address their medical problems (as of writing this, UHS currently has a 1.6 star rating on Google Reviews). It is crucial to note, however, that the problems with UHS aren’t just students’ alleged minor misdiagnoses or long wait times. 

In particular, UHS denies students access to contraception and any resources that would “encourage abortion” due to its commitment to “Jesuit Catholic values.” This leaves students vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies and the numerous risks related to pregnancy and childbirth. While most students likely know about BC’s objections to contraception, they probably don’t know how the health care resources that BC does provide (like antibiotics) can negatively interact with those it does not provide (like oral contraceptives). These interactions can expose students to dangerous side effects and increase vulnerability to certain diseases. 

Without proper guidance and relevant data from BC’s medical services, BC students are not able to make well-informed decisions about their health. While nearby health care facilities can provide contraception, it is far more convenient for students to use UHS for non-contraceptive health issues, like infections. Furthermore, students may expect UHS staff will explain potential interactions with oral contraceptives when prescribing other medications. But, as a Catholic school, this is not necessarily the case.

So, if you take oral contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy, please do me a favor: stop reading this article and take a look at your prescription. Come back after you’ve read the never-ending pamphlet of side effects included with your contraceptive—in particular, find the section titled “interactions.” 

Drug interactions are reactions between one or more drugs that can have various (often negative) consequences and side effects. For example, some antibiotics make the contraceptive component of oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) less effective. While the inefficacy of OCPs can vary based on different types of antibiotics, doctors normally should discuss this information with their patients. Oftentimes, they may suggest a second form of birth control when prescribing antibiotics to patients taking an OCP. 

If you have an adverse reaction to a drug interaction after being prescribed multiple medications, you might think you can sue for it and win lots of money. Unfortunately, though, no outside party would be held responsible in court for your adverse drug interaction if they acted in good faith.

Drug companies are legally required to report potential drug interactions and their adverse side effects and cannot be held liable for any adverse drug interactions they listed on a medication. Meanwhile, doctors assume a liability of unintended harm when prescribing medications. This means that for a doctor to be found guilty of medical malpractice for prescribing medications to a patient, they must fulfill four conditions—or “the four Ds.” The physician must have a “duty” to treat the patient and must have performed subpar or “derelict” service. Additionally, the poor service must have “directly” impacted a patient’s well-being and resulted in causal “damages.” This is historically a very tough type of case for a patient to win. Thus, in simple terms, in the vast majority of cases, the responsibility to read the fine print falls on the individual who gets a prescription. 

Here’s the kicker: UHS employees don’t have to legally provide you with contraceptive devices or information. But if you ask, they do have to answer questions about your prescriptions in good faith. So, if you are taking an OCP for contraceptive purposes and are prescribed something new by UHS or a similarly Jesuit institution, ask UHS staff about possible side effects or interactions. They can and should answer your questions. Typically, the most conservative approach is to recommend the usage of a backup contraceptive.

If you’re suffering from illness while on OCPs, the last thing you’d want to do is also fight an adverse interaction buried deep in the “side effects” label on your prescription. Still, the devil is in the details, and it’s important to know when to speak up for yourself and well-being at a medical appointment. UHS might be a Jesuit medical service, but it is obligated to help you if you ask. 

March 26, 2023