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New Contraceptive Device Available for U.S. Women

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new birth control device for American women. The device is called Implanon. It already is being used by two and a half million women in 30 other countries.

Implanon is the size of a matchstick -- almost four centimeters long and shaped like a rod. The device is inserted under the skin of a woman's upper arm. Once in place, it releases a low dose of the hormone progestin over a three-year period.

Dr. Carolyn Westhoff of New York's Columbia University Medical Center says it is 99 percent effective. "More effective than birth control pills and of course easier to use."

Implanon is the first contraceptive device available to American women since Norplant was removed from the market in 2000. Norplant manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals voluntarily withdrew that product when some of the devices failed to contain enough progestin.

Implanon is a smaller device than Norplant and should be easier to place in the patient.

During clinical trials in the United States, six pregnancies were detected within two weeks of the drug's removal. Medical experts were not certain whether the pregnancies occurred before or after the device was taken out. Implanon does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases and does carry a risk of irregular menstrual bleeding. Smoking while using the contraceptive device is not recommended. The product may not be as effective in overweight women.

Implanon will be widely available in the United States next year, after doctors are trained how to insert and remove the device.