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Abortion Drug Adverse Events Reported

Reports Include Infection and Severe Bleeding
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 29, 2005 -- The FDA received reports of 607 adverse events involving the abortion drug RU-486 over a four-year period, it was reported this week.

The adverse events included five reported deaths and 68 cases of severe bleeding that required transfusions.

Late last month, federal officials confirmed that five women who died of toxic shock syndrome within a week of taking the drug to induce abortions had the same rare bacterial infection. Four of the deaths occurred in California and one in Canada. Three of these deaths were not among those included in the FDA's 607 events.

The news set off a new round of calls by abortion opponents for the FDA to remove the drug, also known as Mifeprex, from the market. Danco Laboratories -- the maker of Mifeprex -- did not respond to a request for comment in time for the publication of this story.

According to the new report, a total of eight deaths have been blamed on RU-486, which was approved for use in the U.S. in September of 2000 for the termination of early pregnancies. Since that time, more than 460,000 doses of the drug have been distributed.

In addition to the five toxic shock deaths, a woman in Tennessee died from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy after taking the abortion drug, a Swedish teen died from a massive hemorrhage, and a woman in the U.K. died for unclear reasons.

Deaths Under Investigation

The 607 adverse events were reported to the FDA between September 2000 and September 2004. Federal officials say the agency is investigating the deaths and the other events.

A total of 237 cases of hemorrhage were reported, with one resulting in death, 68 requiring transfusions, and 42 characterized as life-threatening.

There were 66 cases of infection with seven cases of septic shock reported during the review period, with two resulting in death. Septic shock is a serious complication of infection in which the infection enters the bloodstream and affects vital organ systems.

Seventeen of the adverse events involved ectopic pregnancies that were not discovered until after the women had taken the abortion drug; eleven involved ruptures and one resulted in death. Ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the fertilized egg is implanted in an area outside the uterus.

The findings were reported online Wednesday, and will be published in the February 2006 issue of The Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

Researcher Margaret M. Gary, MD, tells WebMD that she believes the adverse reactions reported to the FDA make up only a fraction of the true medical events that actually occur among women who take the drug to induce abortions.

Gary and co-author Donna J. Harrison, MD, are with the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that has long called for the removal of RU-486 from the market.

"The FDA reports that only about 1% to 10% of adverse events for any given drug are ever reported," she says. "And in this case women may be even less likely to report problems because they may be ashamed."

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