More contraception? At what cost?

New protocol allows Colorado pharmacists to prescribe the pill without patients' physician

Therese Bussen

Access to birth control is about to get a whole lot easier for Colorado at the peril of women’s health, according to Catholic healthcare specialists.

After a bipartisan bill passed last year allowing the boards of medicine, nursing and pharmacy, in conjunction with the state health department, to create protocols that address public health needs, the first initiative to roll out will allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control to patients without their physician.

Simply by filling out a questionnaire, doing a blood pressure test and having a 10-15 minute consultation to ensure the patient is not already pregnant or suffering from other health conditions that would make taking the pill unsafe, oral contraceptives can be prescribed.

The protocol will go into effect sometime this spring once pharmacists are trained, according to the Denver Post. Colorado is the third state, after California and Oregon, to pass this initiative.

Dede Chism, executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care, a healthcare clinic specializing in women’s health and fertility, stated that this protocol goes against “best practice.”

“Bella Natural Women’s Care takes a more natural and healthy approach…we do not prescribe or refer patients for artificial contraception,” Chism said. “One important reason for this is the many physical and emotional side effects that accompany the use of artificial contraception.”

“Contraceptive medications, whether they be oral or any other form, carry with them side effects that can vary from mild to fatal. Our pharmacist colleagues are truly experts in their field, and provide awesome patient education, but their expertise is not in the day-to-day care of a patient and management of their health circumstances,” Chism added.

Catholic pharmacist Valerie Haas agreed that easier access to the pill could prove to be more harmful to women beyond the moral scope.

“I think it’s horrible, moral issues aside,” said pharmacist Valerie Haas. “I’d never want my daughters to get [birth control] from pharmacists. It needs so much screening and monitoring to prevent serious side effects.”

While the protocol requires pharmacists to be trained, Haas is concerned about what that will look like and if the screening process will be enough to prevent complications from the serious side effects that could be potentially avoided with a physician’s monitoring.

“There are so many conditions to identify ahead of time and that need monitoring during use, and patients won’t know what signs to look out for,” Haas said. “Physicians have always been the gateway to assess side effects to make sure they’re using it safely.

“Honestly, I don’t know how pharmacists will have time…to [screen properly],” Haas added. “It could take 30 to 45 minutes to do it properly, and most pharmacists I know barely have time to go to the bathroom.”

Studies have shown that the pill can have serious side effects, and can increase the risk of breast cancer and blood clotting. Haas said that several serious underlying health issues would need serious screening, as contraceptives can complicate or worsen them if undiagnosed or untreated. Some conditions that would need thorough testing and treatment are depression, diabetes, hypertension, bone mineral density, kidney or liver impairment, lupus and endometriosis.

“Endometriosis is another important thing to know, but if it’s not diagnosed, it could be pre-cancerous, and putting more hormones [in your body] could make it worse and lead to potential cancer,” Haas said.

“I would want to be followed fully by a physician who can evaluate all those things in the office…if I had underlying issues that put me at risk. And I don’t know how a pharmacist will be able to comprehensively handle all of that,” Haas continued.

Lynn Grandon, director of the Respect Life office at the Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver, agreed that easier access to the pill can have damaging effects on women’s health.

“The more people can easily get it, the more women will see the physical effects of the pill, which are documented,” Grandon said. “I’m interested to see what this training will be for pharmacists.”

Grandon also noted the moral danger of contraception that will continue to damage culture as a result of easier access to the pill.

“It’s not just bad because contraception is bad, but if we look back on what’s happened in our society in the past 50 years, we’ve had serious damage in our own society. All the predictions of Pope Paul VI [in Humanae Vitae, “on human life”] came true, if contraception was introduced,” Grandon said.

According to the Denver Post, pharmacists are not required to participate, including those who have conscience objections, which is great news for Catholic pharmacists. In addition to training, pharmacists will also be required to have liability insurance and inform the patient’s doctor when prescribing birth control. Girls under 18 will not be eligible.

COMING UP: Catholic Charities joins with St. Raphael Counseling to increase services

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Two Catholic counseling agencies serving the Denver Archdiocese have united to expand services to the community, officials said. The change was effective May 1.

St. Raphael Counseling, founded in 2009, has partnered with Catholic Charities’ Sacred Heart Counseling (formerly Regina Caeli Clinical Services), which was established in 2011. The two are now one ministry under Catholic Charities of Denver sharing the name St. Raphael Counseling.

Licensed clinical psychologist Jim Langley, co-founder of St. Raphael’s, will serve as director.

“Frankly, it seemed kind of silly for two entities to be doing the same thing from the same pool of resources,” Langley told the Denver Catholic.  “I reached out to [Catholic Charities] … to see about removing obstacles. It really must have been from the Lord because there weren’t any big obstacles.”

The combined resources mean clients seeking care aligned with Catholic values will now have access to more therapists and locations: a total of 18 clinicians at 11 offices and six schools across the Front Range region, including Denver, Littleton and northern Colorado.

In the coming months, St. Raphael’s will accept more insurances and will introduce diagnostic testing for behavioral and learning disorders and Autism to families at affordable cost, Langley said.

“We are excited to welcome the team of psychologists from St. Raphael Counseling to Catholic Charities,” said Amparo García, interim president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Denver. “Under Dr. Langley’s guidance, and with his expertise and business acumen, the team has built a trusted and professional counseling service that is faithful to the Church and compassionate to those in need.

“We are optimistic that offering expanded services in a combined organization will provide an added benefit to the community.”

St. Raphael’s offers individuals, couples and families clinical counseling services for issues ranging from depression and anxiety to grief and addiction. It also offers marriage preparation, school counseling, psychological evaluations for seminary applicants, and counseling for priests and religious. It provides outreach and education through presentations and retreats that integrate psychology and spirituality.

St. Raphael’s is named after the Archangel Raphael, who in the Old Testament Book of Tobit is sent by God to help the young man Tobias confront nature and evil. Raphael helps to bring healing to Tobias’ family. Of Hebrew origin, Raphael means “God heals.”

“The name was chosen very deliberately,” Langley said. “We [as therapists] are only instruments of God’s healing, God’s medicine; it’s ultimately God who heals.

“One of the ways the Lord has given us as a path to holiness is through our own brokenness,” he added. “We all have emotional wounds and the healing of these wounds helps us to become the saints God made us to be.

“We work with individuals and families to help them face their woundedness, their brokenness. We do it in a way that is supportive of their Catholic values and can leverage all the awesome, beautiful things about Catholic spirituality that can help us grow as people.”

The recent suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade show that no one is immune from depression and suicidal thoughts, Langley said.

“Even St. Therese [of Lisieux] said there were moments when she was tempted by the medicine bottle on the nightstand,” he noted about the saint who was named a Doctor of the Church in 1997. “We think of her as being a joyful saint, yet she too struggled immensely with depression.

“If people are struggling, they need help,” Langley said. “But counseling isn’t just for people with big issues. It’s also for those who have normal issues and are trying to have a healthy family life.

“There’s nobody who doesn’t need support and good human relationships.”

RAPHAEL COUNSELING

Visit: straphaelcounseling.com

Phone: 720-377-1359