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Pfizer Packaging Mistake of Birth Control Pills Could Lead to Unintended Pregnancies

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Pharmaceutical company Pfizer recently announced that it had accidentally released packs of birth control pills that were incorrectly packaged, potentially leading to unintended pregnancies for users. Overall, the company believes only about 30 packages were affected, having the active and "sugar" pills out of order. Birth control pill users are supposed to take a certain pill each day for a total of 28 days–either a white "active" pill that prevents ovulation during the first three weeks or a placebo during the last week of the month in which they would menstruate.

Pfizer recalled about 1 million packages of Lo/Ovral-28 and Norgestrel generic pills. The pills come in packs of 21 active tablets and 7 inert tablets. The pills were manufactured at Pfizer's plant in upstate New York and the company noticed the problem after a user complained to that she had noticed that a pink inert pill was put in the place of an active pill in the blister packaging. After investigating the complaint Pfizer noticed that some of the blister packs had an extra active pill at day 22 or 28, others were missing an active pill at day 10, and another pack was missing a placebo at day 24.

Pfizer subsequently identified production glitches at the manufacturing facilities that were leading to the mixup–(1) the design of the packaging line could allow for incorrect placement of the pills in the blister pack, (2) the mechanical system designed to detect packaging mistakes could sometimes miss a flaw and (3) human workers could also miss the mistakes. The company says it has fixed the problems and announced the recall on December 28. The company also maintains that it is unlikely that many women will experience an unintended pregnancy since it usually takes missing several pills before ovulation would occur.