A Bowie woman who took the drug DES during pregnancy six years ago, filed a $100 million lawsuit yesterday asking that nine major drug companies be required to set up clinics in Maryland to examine and treat women who may have been affected by the drug.
Attorneys filed the suit on behalf of Andrea Birckhead, her daughter and an estimated 100,000 other Maryland women who may have taken the drug without knowing that it increases the risk of cancer. DES (disthylstilbestrol), is a synthetic hormore taken during pregnancy by as many as 1.5 million American women because doctors mistakenly believed it prevented miscarriages.
Doctors have discovered that DES triggered cases of a previously rare form of vaginal cancer in the daughters of women who took DES and that DES has also been found to increase the risk of miscarriage or premature delivery in those women.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Baltimore, is unusual because it seeks to benefit women who have not yet discovered whether they have been injured by DES. Lawyers said most DES lawsuits are filed on behalf of women who claim to have been affected by the drug.
Attorneys filing the suit claim that thousands of women exposed to DES must now undergo frequent and costly medical examinations to determine whether they have been affected by the drug. Because some women are yet unaware of the drug's dangers, the attorneys said, the suit asks that the drug firms -- none of which are based in Maryland -- also be required to publicie the drug's potential dangers.
The suit asks that the drug companies, Eli Lilly O Co., Abbott Laboratories, Parke, Davis Co., and six others help notify all Maryland women who might have been exposed to DES.
The plaintiff, Andrea M. Birckhead, 25, said yesterday in an interview that her doctor prescribed DES for her from October 1973 until January 1974 while she was pregnant with her daughter, Amanda.
Birckhead said that she now sees a physician six times a year to determine whether she has been affected by the DES and that in the future, her daughter will also have to undergo examinations.
Russ Derbin, a spokesman for Eli Lilly & Co., of Indianapolis, said yesterday that until the company examined the lawsuit, it would have no comment. Derbin said Lilly -- like most other major drug firms -- has been sued numerous times over DES-related claims but that the company has never been asked to set up clinics such as those described in the Birkhead's suit.