LISTEN: Drug prescribed to pregnant women linked to birth defects

The drug ondansetron is prescribed to pregnant women suffering from severe nausea.

A Toronto Star investigation is digging into allegations that at least 20 pregnant Canadian women were given a drug for severe vomiting that caused serious side-effects. That's because the drug is not recommended for expectant mothers.

The investigation does not appear to establish a direct cause-and-effect link between birth defects and the drug ondansetron, just that side-effects were reported by at least 20 Canadian women on the database of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This drug (which is recommended by Health Canada) is recommended for nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and in patients recovering from surgery, but the manufacturer says it is not recommended for pregnant women.

Some of the side effects being reported include two infant deaths, several instances of newborns with heart defects and malformations of their kidneys.

There is no law preventing doctors and pharmacists from prescribing a drug off-label to a patient. That's a controversial practice where a drug is given to a patient in an age group, or to someone with a condition that it hasn't been approved for.

According to a recent American study, about 10 to 15 percent of pregnant women are given drugs to treat morning sickness.

LISTEN: Newstalk 1010 medical expert Dr Mitch Shulman reacts to the Star investigation. 

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