20 Mar 2017

Drug linked to birth defects was used in NZ

9:50 pm on 20 March 2017

A drug linked to birth defects in Britain was available in this country for nearly a decade before being withdrawn in 1975.

The Ministry of Health and its Medsafe unit said the hormonal pregnancy test known as Primodos was used here from 1966.

British newspaper The Guardian said the UK drugs regulator would examine new evidence about Primodos following growing fears that it caused serious deformities in children, often leading to early death.

Women's health advocates said earlier today that medical professionals in New Zealand could remember prescribing the drug.

The Ministry of Health and Medsafe later confirmed it was available until June 1975, when it was withdrawn from the market and removed from pharmacy stocks.

There was no information about how many patients were prescribed the product here, Medsafe said.

However, the agency had contacted German drug company Bayer, which owned the drug-maker, Schering, to find out more.

Bayer has denied the birth defect claims.

New Zealand Federation of Women's Health Councils co-convenor Barbara Robson said the investigation should also look at what was said when the drug was withdrawn.

"We certainly would like to know what public notification was put in place at the time and what effort was made to contact prescribers and any women who may have used the drug back then," she said.

"For women who miscarried or for women who had babies born with severe abnormalities it may well have explained the cause of the defects or miscarriages."