The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) is expanding contraceptive services in independent and chain pharmacies across the state.

According to a Monday, May 13 press release from the department, in the near future, people across North Carolina will be able to receive contraceptive services at pharmacies “without a prescription from another medical provider, including counseling and education from a pharmacist about options for contraception and other preventive services, dispensing of contraception and connection to ongoing care if needed.”

On Tuesday, May 14, in Lillington, state health officials held a celebration of the improved access to birth control services.

State health officials say improved access is one huge key in addressing the rising maternal and infant mortality rates in North Carolina.

NC Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said a lot of positive consequences should follow the proliferation of birth control in pharmacies.

“Expanding access to reproductive health care improves health outcomes for mothers, babies and families in North Carolina,” Kinsley said. “Thanks to the many pharmacies across the state that stepped up to ensure the people in their communities have access to contraception, pre-natal vitamins and other health care resources they need to thrive.”

According to state health officials, over half of all pregnancies in North Carolina are unintended, which, they say, can lead to poor maternal care and lower the infant survival rate. Expansion of contraceptive services, on the other hand, improves the health of mothers, babies and families.

Retail and independent pharmacies in North Carolina currently offer birth control services in 84 counties of the state’s 100 counties. Ingles Markets Pharmacies will begin contraceptive services at pharmacies in some counties in the western part of the state by the end of this month, and Walgreens will begin providing services in select counties in central and eastern North Carolina by the end of June.

Representatives of NC DHHS say that expanded access to contraceptive services will be particularly beneficial in the rural areas of the state. Those areas have fewer providers and are considered to be “maternal health and contraceptive deserts.”

The May 13 press release announcing the expansion of services states that this statewide expansion builds upon prior efforts meant to ensure that more families have access to reproductive health services.

“North Carolina Session Law 2021-110/HB 96 grants authority to pharmacists to prescribe a variety of contraception under protocols approved by the NC Board of Pharmacy,” the release reads, “and the NC Medical Board. NCDHHS has partnered with the UNC School of Pharmacy and the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists who have been leading efforts to support pharmacies adopting these protocols. NC Medicaid started enrolling pharmacists as providers and paying a counseling code in January 2024.”