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Industry too cautious about drug use during pregnancy

RCGP doctor says women are missing out on vital treatments due to overly cautious drug labelling

Pregnant women are being denied useful medicines because pharmaceutical companies are overly cautious in issuing safety warnings about them, a leading UK doctor has claimed.

Dr Jim Kennedy, head of prescribing at the Royal College of GPs, said some women were actually risking their health more by not being treated in the best way.

ìWomen are being denied use of drugs for everything from headaches and depression to infections,î he said. ìFor some drugs such as statins for cholesterol and some anti-epilepsy drugs, the risk of not taking medicine may be greater than the risk of taking them.î

The industry has been cautious about pregnant women taking medications since the thalidomide tragedy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which resulted in 400 disabled babies being born in the UK.

Dr Kennedy said the situation had become so bad that many women avoided taking paracetamol even though most over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are safe to use.

ìWe should encourage women to consult with their doctors about whether they could be taking drugs,î he added.

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) spokesman Richard Ley said that the industry did err on the side of caution because patient safety is ìparamountî.

It has become almost standard practice for pharma firms to add caveats about the use of their products in pregnant women despite the fact that it is very rare for clinical trials to include expectant mothers.

30th September 2008

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