Some hospitals have stopped offering a drug that is used in conjunction with the
abortion pill RU486. Obstetricians say the result is that women at these
hospitals are getting inferior care.
The drug, called misoprostol, causes the uterus to contract and is often used to
induce labor in full-term deliveries. It is also used to expel a fetus that has
died. But some hospitals have stopped using misoprostol for obstetric purposes
since its manufacturer, Searle, sent out a letter warning doctors not to give
the drug to pregnant women. The letter was sent in August, several weeks before
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved RU486. Since then, misoprostol
has been pulled from about half of the nation's teaching hospitals, according to
an informal poll by the New York University School of Medicine.
As reported in a story today on Morning Edition with Bob Edwards from NPR News,
Searle's letter is preventing many women from having access to an important
drug. Among the hospitals no longer using misoprostol is the prestigious Brigham
and Women's in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard University.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is protesting Searle's
efforts to halt use of misoprostol. The group says randomized clinical trials
have found that the drug is safe and effective when prescribed correctly.
Alternatives are less effective and have troublesome side effects, the group
Misoprostol was developed as an anti-ulcer drug. But it has become better known
as the second drug in a regimen that causes an abortion. Patients take RU486,
which prevents the uterus from supporting a pregnancy. Then they take
misoprostol, which expels the contents of the uterus. Abortion opponents
protested approval of the regimen, often called a medical abortion. They also
threatened to lead protests against any American company that agreed to make
Misoprostol is not approved by the FDA for obstetric uses. However doctors often
prescribe drugs for purposes not sanctioned by the FDA -- and drug makers rarely
oppose the practice.
Both Searle and its parent company Pharmacia Corporation turned down Morning
Edition's repeated requests for an interview.
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