Outside the Bubble

Alternative birth control proves viable

Last week, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published a study on the efficacy of an injectable form of birth control designed to reversibly reduce the fertility of people with testes which took place between 2008 and 2012. The injection, which contains the hormones estrogen and testosterone, would be the long-awaited answer to decades of hormonal birth control designed only for people with ovaries that has long placed the responsibility for effective birth control on women.

The shot works by reducing the sperm count of users, which substantially reduces the likelihood of a pregnancy resulting from intercourse with an ovary-bearing partner. The addition of higher amounts of hormones tricks the brain into believing the body has produced sufficient amounts, so the reproductive organs cease to produce their own testosterone and sperm.

Researches during the study found the method to be about 96 percent effective, which is comparable to the effectiveness of condoms with typical use. The injection was administered only every eight weeks, and at the end of the study most of the 270 participants, all aged 18-45 and in monogamous relationships, said that they would be willing to continue using this method for birth control (Science, “Male birth control ‘shot’ study yields promising results,” 10.31.2016).

After the study was terminated, almost all participants returned to their baseline fertility levels (CNN, “Male birth control shot found effective, but side effects cut study short,” 11.01.2016).

However, like all medical interventions, the “male birth control shot” has potential side effects. 20 men dropped out of the study because of hormone-related mood changes, and more participants who remained in the study also complained of increased mood problems and symptoms of depression. As a result of these and other health concerns, the study was subsequently terminated.

Other side effects included muscle aches, acne and increased libido, but according to these researchers, the mood changes were the most significant side effect for the participants (BBC, “Birth control: Male contraceptive injection ‘shows promise,’” 10.28.2016).

This news comes on the heels of recently-released psychological studies from Denmark showing an appreciable increased risk of depression for long-term users of hormonal birth control that has previously been created for women (NPR, “Does Some Birth Control Raise Depression Risk? That’s Complicated,” 10.09.2016).

Statistics about traditional birth control and depression have only recently become available, despite the fact that women have been encouraged by doctors and governments to use hormonal birth control for more than 50 years. These results have raised concerns from women, doctors and feminist commentators alike.

Professor of Biology and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University Elisabeth Lloyd explained, “Twenty percent or thirty percent of the women who take oral birth control pills experience depression and have to take medication for it. So the difference just struck me. They terminated this study once it showed three per cent depression for the men” (CNN).

Many women have also published op-eds this week pointing out the irony, and historical inequity, of the fact that only after a half a century of birth control use are women’s mental health risks finally being addressed, while the researchers for the male version of hormonal birth control saw the need to protect the mental health of their (male) subjects immediately after risks were observed.

The researchers of the “male birth control” study expressed their intention to continue developing a low-risk, reversible form of hormonal birth control for people with testes. They believe a 75 percent approval rate, the result of the study, indicates a viable interest in the product (CNN). The medical community at large believes they are drawing closer to greater gender equality in who assumes the responsibility, and the risk, of pregnancy prevention.

—Elizabeth Dean, Contributing Editor



Pipeline explosion will limit gas supply

On Oct. 31, an excavation machine struck the Colonial Pipeline in Shelby County, AL, resulting in an explosion and subsequent fire that killed one of the pipeline’s workers and injured five more. As of Tuesday, four of the five remained in hospital, being treated for their injuries.

The fire is currently under control by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Reuters, “Colonial may open key U.S. gasoline line by Saturday after fatal blast,” 11.01.2016). Overall, the complete damage to the pipeline and surrounding area cannot yet be assessed since recent drought has caused a multiplicity of fires in the region, rapidly draining the state’s emergency resources (The Weather Channel, “Colonial Pipeline Explosion Prompts Fears of Higher Gas Prices For Weeks to Come,” 11.01.2016).

The incident prompted authorities to shut the line down following the accident, but it may be reopened as soon as Saturday. A spill in September following a break in the same pipeline, just a few miles away from the site of Monday’s eruption, was the largest in that location in about two decades and caused a 12- day shutdown (Reuters). The state of Alabama declared a state of emergency to deal with the aftermath of that accident.

The Colonial Pipeline carries gasoline 5,500 miles from refineries in the Gulf Coast to New York, and is a crucial source of fuel for the East Coast, providing about one third of all gasoline to the region. It carries gasoline in the first line, and diesel and jet fuels in the second. Company officials say they may be able to ship gasoline through the second line, as they did after the September incident, to alleviate the gas shortages and meet demand (The Wall Street Journal, “Gas Prices Jump After Pipeline Fire,” 11.01.2016).

Global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service Tom Kloza reflected on the accident and response. He said, “It exposes the flaws of a just-in-time inventory system for a lifeblood product” (Wall Street Journal). The shutdown will likely restrict gas availability for people in the southeastern states which rely on the pipeline for gas, depending on the duration of the repair process.

The shutdown could possibly even affect the supply of gas to the Northeast. However, the northeastern states which receive gas from this pipeline also get imported fuel from waterborne suppliers, a luxury the land-locked areas in the Southeast do not have, and so will be less likely to experience a shortage (Reuters).

Because the primary provider to the Southeast is currently out of service, gas prices in the region will likely spike. After the September spill, gas prices in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee went up 20 cents in just a few days, and residents recall gas stations being completely empty of fuel. Prices have not yet risen at the pump, since stations have not needed to refill since the incident. However, officials fear that motorists, especially drivers of large trucks, may panic and rush to fill their tanks, causing difficulty for other customers as the shutdown continues (Wall Street Journal).

The governor of Alabama waived legal restrictions on the distance drivers may travel to transport gas, in order to better facilitate the flow of fuel through the region, and the governors of North Carolina and Georgia have followed suit (Wall Street Journal). The Southeast is still recovering from gas shortages and price hikes from not two months ago. However, President of the pipeline advisory firm Accufacts Inc. Richard Kuprewicz estimated, “My experience tells me that even with a fatality, I would not expect this to go as long as the last one” (Reuters). —Eilis Donohue, News Editor

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