Contraceptive implants: getting the facts straight
A week after the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the Department of Health
(DOH) from procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the
contraceptive implants Implanon and Implanon NXT, Health Secretary Janette Garin stated that the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had certified the aforementioned contraceptive implants as “not an
abortifacient,” pointing out that the mode of action of the said contraceptives was to inhibit ovulation.
The Health Secretary, however, had neglected to mention the important medical fact that the
Etonogestrel component of Implanon and Implanon NXT, not only suppresses ovulation but also inhibits
endometrial proliferation, thereby preventing the implantation of an already fertilized ovum– a
phenomenon also known as “embryonic abortion”. This secondary mechanism of action had been
admitted by the drugs’ manufacturer itself, Merck Sharp & Dohme, in its Patient Information leaflet.
There are also peer-reviewed studies that show the complex and direct effects of Implanon and
Implanon NXT on the endometrium, as well as larger studies that reaffirm the direct relationship
between endometrial thickness and the likelihood of implantation.
Apart from having an abortifacient effect, all implantable contraceptives including Implanon and
Implanon NXT also have life-threatening side effects to women, such as ectopic pregnancy, ovarian
cysts, breast cancer, and serious blood clots, as well as other risks like problems with insertion and
removal, high blood pressure, gallbladder problems, and rare cancerous or noncancerous liver tumors,
according to Merck’s Patient Information leaflet. Furthermore, disturbing reports of Implanon “getting
lost” inside women’s bodies prompted Merck to add barium to its updated model Implanon NXT for it to
be detectable by x-ray should it migrate to other parts of the body. In some cases, Implanon has also
been shown to cause unusual scarring at the site of insertion and removal.
What is even more alarming is that Health Secretary Janette Garin, who is herself a physician, seems to
be either ignorant of or indifferent to the aforementioned medical risks of such contraceptives both to
women and the unborn. It appears that the DOH has gone around implanting this device in about
600,000 poor women without giving them full knowledge of its potentially fatal risks and its
abortifacient effects. The least the DOH could do is to educate women so that they could make an
informed choice. But how can the women make an informed choice when the DOH itself seems to be
One also wonders whether the DOH should be made responsible for the removal of the contraceptive
implants they had so hastily administered to women, despite warnings from several groups, while the
FDA certification was still pending. Also, would the health agency shoulder the medical costs when the
women experience the contraceptive’s side effects mentioned above? The answers to these questions
remain to be seen.
–FILIPINOS FOR LIFE