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OTC Products, Including Birth Control, to be Available in Vending Machines.

OTC Products, Including Birth Control, to be Available in Vending Machines.

By Susan Olsen

A new law will repeal Maryland’s prohibition on the sale of many over-the-counter (OTC) medications – including condoms and emergency contraception – by means of a vending machine. Governor Hogan recently refused to sign the legislation but allowed it to become law without his signature. The law will go into effect on October 1, 2021.

According to a 50-state review, conducted by Public Policy Partners in partnership with the National Health Law Program, 46 states and the District of Columbia have no restrictions on OTC medication sales in vending machines.  Therefore, Maryland was one of only four states that restricted access to most OTC medications distributed via vending machines.

The law will allow for round the clock access to OTC meds even when pharmacy sections of stores are closed.  Especially affected will be areas of our state which currently have low pharmacy density and lack pharmacies that are open 24 hours a day. Some underserved areas include the Eastern Shore as well as urban minority/low-income communities.

Benefits beyond convenience and accessibility include customer privacy and reducing the need for clinical visits to obtain to obtain nonprescription medications.  More access to OTC medications may reduce both the time and spending on health care, including acute illness.

This policy will increase access to reproductive health products such as condoms and emergency contraception (EC), including on college campuses. Emergency contraception is not an abortion.  It is a hormone (progestin) commonly used in birth control products; it can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or failed contraception. EC works by delaying or preventing ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary).  The most frequently used kind of emergency contraception is an OTC medication.  Because of mis- and disinformation around EC and other reproductive health issues, Our Maryland has partnered with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland to launch Maryland Mythbusters, where you can learn more.

All Marylanders will benefit from having greater access to OTC medications.  Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski summed it up in testimony when he said:

“Access to health care facilities is a right that all Maryland residents deserve.  However, this right often operates as a privilege, and some of the State’s most vulnerable individuals do not have access to the health offices they urgently need.  Many have neither the ability nor the time to travel to health facilities at a time they are open.  Providing health vending machines to these communities can help individuals access the medications and health care they vitally need at their convenience.”

Susan Olsen served as the Mike Pretl Fellow at Our Maryland since 2019. Susan is an environmental and progressive activist based on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.