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Drug used as a pregnancy test "caused abortions"

21 March 2017


Regulators placed a warning on the drug in 1975. Image: Sky News 

A drug that was marketed as a pregnancy test in the 1960s and 70s may have caused abortions and fetal defects, according to an investigation by Sky News.

Primodos: The Secret Drug Scandal is airing on Sky Atlantic tonight, and is investigating Primodos, a drug which was given to 1.5 million women in the UK.

Sky News reports that it has found evidence in the National Archives in Berlin that the same drug that was being distributed in the UK as a pregnancy test was being used to induce abortions in Germany. There is also evidence that it was used for this purpose in South Korea.

When the drug was introduced, it was said to provide proof of pregnancy much more cheaply than the method used at the time - injecting toads with a woman's urine.Instead, Primodos was said to induce a period if the woman was not pregnant.

High levels of progesterone

It is now known that one dose of the drug contained super-strength hormones that, later, would be used in the morning-after pill. If a woman was pregnant, these large doses of progesterone would, it was thought, simply be absorbed into the body. If she wasn't, they would trigger menstruation. It is thus feared that women who took the drug to ascertain pregnancy may have caused their baby to die unknowingly. In 1975 regulators placed a warning on the packet that it should not be used during pregnancy.

Foetal abnormalities

Sky News is also investigating whether Primodos caused foetal abnormalities. Victims who claim to have been damaged by Primodos are preparing to take legal action against the pharmaceutical company Bayer, which took over manufacturer Schering in 2006. Sky has spoken to families of children born in the 60s and 70s, some of whom have physical deformities such as shortened limbs or spinal defects. Other parents miscarried or lost their children due to congenital problems such as heart defects.

Robin Hayes, whose son died aged 10 after being born with life-threatening heart problems, told Sky News: "I'm convinced, and I will be until my dying day, that this drug was responsible for the death of my son."

The documentary has been welcomed by the Department of Health, and is being shown in Parliament tonight.

News in brief:

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