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Eight Years after Approval, Few in Britain Use Depo Provera

October 30, 1992

LONDON (AP) _ Eight years after Depo Provera was approved for sale in Britain, the injectable birth control drug is the choice of only 1 percent of women who use contraceptives.

The drug, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, prevents conception for three months, but can lead to menstrual irregularities, weight gain and depression.

Family planning experts in Britaine blame Depo Provera’s unpopularity on nationwide rumors that doctors had given it surreptitiously to poor, immigrant women. The rumors, which were never substantiated, peaked shortly after the drug was legalized in 1984.

Family planning experts say the drug, which prevents ovulation by blocking the hormone gonadotropin, was also not widely used because doctors did not tell their patients about it.

″There’s no doubt it’s been underused because of the adverse publicity and because it wasn’t used in the U.S.,″ said Dr. Cynthia Harper, a family planning doctor at Alec Turnbull Clinic at Oxford.

″It’s got an appalling reputation, which it doesn’t deserve,″ said Jane Urwin, medical information officer of Britain’s Family Planning Association.

She said the vast majority of women who practice contraception in Britain use the pill; about 5 percent use the intrauterine device or IUD; and 1 percent use Depo Provera.

″The choices women make depend on the information given by their general practitioners, many of whom just offer the pill and nothing else,″ said Urwin.

Among about 30 women aged 21 to 36 who were interviewed at random Thursday, none had heard of the drug or realized it was available.

″I can’t believe it’s legal and hasn’t been recommended,″ said Vicky Astley, 30, a nursery school teacher. She said she has regular checkups with her gynecologist but has never been offered the drug.

″I don’t like the idea that if you have side effects, you’re stuck with them for three months,″ said 32-year-old businesswoman Ginnette Wilson, who also was unaware that Depo Provera was available.

When the drug was approved for use in Britain, the government warned doctors that depression was a possible side effect. However, doctors say it is no more frequent than with the pill.

Many women do not like another potential side effect - irregular or absent menstrual bleeding - because they lack the monthly reassurance that they are not pregnant, said Dr. Mark Charnock, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Oxford University.

″In my experience women either love it or hate it,″ said Harper. Some women love the convenience, while others hate the irregular bleeding, she said.

Another drawback is that fertility is depressed for about nine months after stopping the injections, said Dr. Diana Moran, deputy director of Margaret Pike Center, a family planning clinic in London.

″It’s been a bit of an uphill battle because of the associations in the past,″ said Ann Furedi, a spokeswoman for the Birth Control Trust, an independent family planning organization.″It’s just now beginning to be treated as an acceptable form of contraception.″

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