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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 04:55 GMT 05:55 UK


Contraceptive implant withdrawn

Norplant works by releasing hormones under the skin

Norplant, the controversial contraceptive implant which hundreds of women claim has made them ill, is to be withdrawn from the UK, the distributors have announced.

BBC's Fergus Walsh: Fifty thousand women took up the option
Distributors Hoechst Marion Roussel said dwindling demand for the contraceptive meant it was no longer commercially viable.

The company blamed adverse media coverage, and legal action by women who claimed they had suffered serious side-effects after using the contraceptive.

It rebutted any suggestion that Norplant was unsafe, and issued a statement which said "confidence in the safety and effectiveness of Norplant remains unchanged".

Norplant, which was launched in the UK six years ago, is to be discontinued by the end of October.

Norplant works by implanting six hormone-charged rods under the sking that give off very small amounts of a hormone similar to progesterone, which is produced by a woman during the last two weeks of each monthly cycle.

More than 50,000 women in the UK have opted for the five-year implant, hailed as a revolution in contraception.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh: "It looked like being a revolutionary new form of contraception"
But by last year more than 400 had joined the Norplant Action Group, set up in 1995 after women claimed they had suffered severe side effects from having the hormone-charged implant inserted under their skin.

Serious side effects

[ image: The contraceptive pill is an alternative to Norplant]
The contraceptive pill is an alternative to Norplant
The women claimed the implant had left some of them with endless periods and others with no periods at all, and had caused skin problems, hair loss, mood swings and other side-effects.

A group of 275 women who brought a class damages action against Hoechst Marion Roussel had to abandon it in February after legal aid was withdrawn.

The distributors said the women who claimed problems represented less than 0.5% of UK users.

But thousands of women in the United States are still bringing class actions against Wyeth, the American distributors of the drug, which was invented by the company Leiras Oy.

Doctors told not to offer implant

Hoechst Marion Roussel said that UK demand had levelled off since 1995 when the British Medical Association advised GPs not to offer Norplant to new patients.

The BMA issued the advice after a row with the Department of Health over how much GPs should be paid for performing the 20-minute procedure to insert the implant.

A spokesman for Hoechst Marion Roussel said: "In effect, a major therapeutic advance, fully approved by the UK Medicines Control Agency, and widely welcomed by doctors and users, has been killed off for non-medical reasons by an unholy alliance of bureaucrats, lawyers and the media.

"It raises serious questions as to who in the end decides which products survive on the UK prescriptions market.

"One has to ask whether the UK healthcare environment, with its reluctance to invest and its mushrooming US-style litigation culture, really wants new technologies - despite clear benefits to the user and to the NHS."

Campaigners back device

Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "The decision to withdraw Norplant is understandable but regrettable as it was one of the most effective methods of contraception available."

Two-thirds of women seeking abortion claim to be pregnant because of contraception failure, Ms Furedi said.

"Norplant was ideal for many women as it was in effect a 'fit it and forget it' means of protection against pregnancy."

A spokesman for the Family Planning Association said: "It has always been the view of the FPA that Norplant is safe and effective and that it is a vital addition to the choice of contraceptives available.

"It has been an important precursor to other implantable methods and has furthered discussion and usage of them."

Dr Sally Hope, an Oxford GP and chairwoman of the Primary Care Gynaecology Group, said the loss of Norplant would reduce women's choice.

But she added: "There were so many problems with putting it in and taking it out that even though I went on the training course I never used it.

"It required minor surgery to put it in which was rather repulsive - like skinning a chicken - and for the younger women at whom it was primarily aimed there were lots of alternatives."

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