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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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August 2019 (Vol. 4 Issue 6)

Young women still being prescribed thalidomide
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Young women still being prescribed thalidomide image

Thalidomide, the morning sickness drug that caused appalling birth defects in more than 10,000 babies in the 1960s, is still being prescribed to young women who become pregnant—and three women had to have an abortion last year after being exposed to the drug.

One of the women was taking the drug, while the partner was taking it in the other two cases, and the action group, the Campaign for the Prevention of Thalidomide Births in Europe, believes that none of the women had been warned about the drug's dangers to the newborn.

The drug is available in 48 countries for treating conditions such as Crohn's disease and neurodermatitis, a skin condition, but doctors and pharmacists are supposed to warn women about the dangers, and outline birth control methods.

But Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden prescribe the drug without giving any warnings, despite guidelines issued by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). "More education is needed for patients taking thalidomide, as many are not aware of the scandal in the 1960s, and the horrific birth defects that the drug can cause," said the campaign's chairman, Glenn Harrison.

Thalidomide also seems to be getting more of a green light in the US. The new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), America's drug regulator, has recommended changes to the risk evaluation of pharmaceuticals as a way of lowering drug costs.

Scott Gottlieb has told Congress that the evaluation process, known as REMS, should be relaxed; at the moment, thalidomide can be prescribed, but only when birth control and the risks of pregnancy are explained.

The campaign group fears that the pregnancy advice could be scrapped if the rules are relaxed.



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