Women who used a pregnancy testing drug believed to cause birth defects are starting to come forward.

The Herald understands some New Zealand women who took the drugs have come forward since evidence emerged in the United Kingdom at the weekend which showed women who took the hormone-based pill Primodos in the 1960s and 1970s had a higher chance of having children with severe deformities or other serious health problems.

The Ministry of Health had been in contact with some people about the drug but was still working to determine if those people were women who used the drug, family members or concerned members of the public.

The expected to have more information tomorrow.


On Monday Medsafe confirmed the drug had been used in New Zealand.

A New Zealand Herald story from June 6, 1975, reported hormone-based pregnancy testing drugs Primodos and Amenorone Forte had been banned by what was then the Health Department because of "an increasing amount of evidence linking them with birth defects" which had led to their use being restricted in several countries.

The Herald reported that the two drugs had been prescribed in New Zealand and abroad for many years.

In 1975, the Health Department's principal medical officer Dr D A Andrews told the Herald that the department had received "quite a number of reports" associating the use of pregnancy testing drugs of this type with foetal abnormalities.

"The incidence of abnormalities is not very great, but it is measurable," he said.

At the time authorities in the United States, Australia, Britain and Ireland had all warned doctors against prescribing the tests but New Zealand was one of the first countries to ban them outright.

All stocks of the drugs throughout the country were recalled by Schering and Roussel, the two pharmaceutical companies concerned.

Women were given two pills to take on successive days - if they did not bleed after taking the tablets they were pregnant.


Andrews told the Herald, at the time of the ban, that hormonal pregnancy tests had been superseded by laboratory tests and there was no need for the drugs.

Medsafe general manager Chris James yesterday said Medsafe had been in discussions with Primodos manufacturer Bayer, who took over Schering, but they had not yet been able to provide any indication of the volume of doses distributed in New Zealand.

The company had committed to providing whatever usage data it could if and when it became available, he said.

The Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring had found one report of an adverse reaction in an adult in its files but none of foetal malformations.

Medsafe was unable to provide information on whether any women who had used the drug had yet come forward.

James said anyone who has specific questions about Primodos should discuss their concerns with their GP, contact Healthline on 0800 611 116, or email the Ministry of Health on info@health.govt.nz.