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This Birth Control "Pill Scare" Warning Is Brought to You by Bayer

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada is worried that media coverage of blood clots allegedly caused by Bayer's Yaz contraceptive could create a "pill scare" that leaves women with unwanted pregnancies. SOGC's concerns may well be valid, but they're undercut by the amount of money the organization has received from Bayer (BAYRY) in grant funding.

The SOGC put out a "clinical practice guideline" to doctors in hopes of clearing up "confusion" about blood clots and Yaz:

Recent contradictory evidence and the ensuing media coverage of the venous thromboembolism risk attributed to the progestin component of certain newer oral contraceptive products have led to fear and confusion about the safety of oral contraceptives in general and drospirenone-containing oral contraceptives in particular. "Pill scares" of this nature have occurred in the past, with panic stopping of the pill, increased rates of unplanned pregnancy, and no subsequent decrease in venous thromboembolism rates.
That panic -- if it exists -- is triggered by the 4,200 lawsuits Bayer faces in federal court which allege the new progestin formulation in contraceptive pills carries a higher risk of blood clots and the potentially fatal thromboembolisms, heart attacks and strokes that go with them.

The author of the SOGC guidelines, Dr. Robert Reid of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, may be right when he says that the health risks of getting pregnant are greater than those of staying on the pill. But the paper omits two things: Non-hormonal alternatives for women who don't want to get pregnant (such as condoms or IUDs) and the fact that SOGC takes money from Bayer.

Bayer sponsors SOGC's contraception awareness project in addition to supplying many unrestricted continuing medical education grants. Here's one from 2009, here's a couple from 2007 and 2008, and here's an SOGC study funded by Bayer, also from 2008. That's the tip of the iceberg. If you enter "Bayer" into the search engine on SOGC's web site you'll find dozens of grants and sponsorships from the company for SOGC's various activities.

It's not that SOGC isn't telling the truth when it talks about how confusing the Yaz issue is -- the data is genuinely contradictory and it's not at all clear whether the Yaz clots were caused by the new drug or were simply the general background level of clots among women who take the pill. But SOGC's credibility is undermined when its guidelines fail to mention its conflict of interest or alternatives to the products of its sponsors.

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