Another Thalidomide Disaster? Risks of Taking the Drug Epilim while Pregnant Largely Ignored

drug therapy for autismIn 2005, research found rates of autism among babies exposed to Sodium Valproate to be much higher than in the general population. A study published in the journal Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2007, determined that children exposed to an epilepsy drug in the womb were seven times more likely to develop the conditions health problems including autism. Regardless of these finding, the medication has still been distributed without a proper warning to mothers. In 2010, over 21,500 between the ages of 20 and 39-years-old were taking Sodium Valproate for epilepsy and other conditions.

Sodium Valproate, more commonly recognized by its registered trade name Epilim, is produced by Sanofi-Aventis. It is an anti-convulsant used in the treatment of many conditions such as epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, migraines. In addition to its use for treating epilepsy and the conditions previously listed, it is used off-license as a mood stabilizer for treating individuals with other psychiatric illnesses. The drug works by calming electrical activity in the brain to reduce fits. It is thought to achieve this by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain. The drug is thought to increase the production of, and prevent the cessation of GABA. Possible side effects of the drug include sedation, tremors, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, skin reactions, increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior, aggression, hyperactivity, thrombocytopenia, confusion, liver disorders, leucopenia, anemia, acne, pancreatitis, and hirsutism.

Sodium Valproate is known to have the highest risk of birth defects—two to five times higher—compared to any other of the commonly used anti-epilepsy medications. Since the medication Sodium Valproate was introduced in 1973, researchers suggest that of the 48,000 children in the United Kingdom who have taken the drug, 40 percent have developed physical and/or mental problems as a result. That is an estimated 19,200 children that have potentially been affected negatively by this drug. It is claimed that 800 newborns are affected each year due to the drug. Generally, the drug is prescribed to pregnant mothers who are suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or pain. According to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, children exposed to Sodium Valproate are six times more likely to have a neurodevelopment disorder than pregnant mothers who took other types of anti-seizure drugs or none at all.

This medication is currently being blamed for a medical disaster worse than the Thalidomide scandal of the 1960s, which resulted in the birth of 2,000 babies born with missing or shortened limbs after mothers took the drug to help alleviate morning sickness. As a result of the damages caused by the drug, 32-year-old Emma Murphy, founded the Fetal Anti-Convulsant Trust (FACT), which aims to achieve financial and clinical support for victims affected by anti-convulsant medications while in the womb for those born in the United Kingdom. Murphy has five children, who all have been affected by the drug. “Every day I deal with autism, slow learning, incontinence, deafness, and a host of other problems that they suffer,” she states. “I was not warned about Epilim by my doctor, even after my fourth child and when I voiced my suspicions.”