Doctor Reports Deformed Limbs In Babies Born To Drug Users

Jane E. Brody

© January 30, 1969 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

About a half-dozen babies born to drug-taking mothers in the last six months are believed to have the same type of limb deformities known to result from the ingestion of thalidomide in early pregnancy, a birth defects expert reported yesterday.

In a speech at a genetics-counseling meeting here, the expert, Dr. Henry L. Nadler, pediatrician at Northwestern University, raised the possibility of underground traffic in thalidomide or some drug that may have similar effects, particularly among the hippies on the West Coast.

Dr. Nadler said that he had studied three women, all of whom reported taking a "green-and-white capsule" of unknown contents early in their pregnancies .

Dr. Nadler said that "these hippies take a number of different drugs and frequently don't have the slightest idea what they're taking. They refer to them by their color - the pink dot pill, the yellow capsule, and the like."

Two of the women were from hippie communities in California and the third from a hippie community in Chicago. One of the California women is expected to deliver a deformed baby any day. Its deformity was diagnosed by an X-ray late in pregnancy, Dr. Nadler said.

Other Reports Cited

Dr. Nadler said that, in addition to the three cases he had seen, he has heard "through the rumor mill" of at least three others occurring in the last six months, all on the West Coast.

The pediatrician suggested that the mysterious green-and-white capsules, which were reported to have been taken to ease the women down from LSD trips, may have contained illegally obtained thalidomide or some similar drug.

He emphasized, however, that the women had taken a large number of different drugs during their pregnancies, any one or none of which could have been responsible for the birth deformities.

The deformities he described involved a shortening of one or more of the babies' limbs, a syndrome known as phocomelia. The naturally occurring incidence of this disorder is about one case in 100,000 births which would mean that on the average about 38 such babies would be born in the United States each year.

Dr. Nadler made his report at a one-day symposium on genetic counseling held at the Commodore Hotel and sponsored by the National Foundation-March of Dimes.

Dr. Nadler's finding resembles a similar series of babies with phocomelia born to three drug-taking women described last fall by Dr. David Shurtleff, director of the Birth Defects Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Dr. Shurtleff said that the deformed babies had been seen by him over a six-month period "three or four years ago." All three women, two of whom were drug addicts, had taken a "yellow-and-white tablet" during the period of their pregnancies when their babies' limbs were forming. The contents of the tablets were never uncovered and nothing resembling them was found on the American market, Dr. Shurtleff said.

Dr. Cecil B. Jacobson of George Washington University School of Medicine said that he had studied the aborted fetuses of children born to 50 women who took LSD during their pregnancies and found no cases of limb deformities among them.

He did find, however, that five of the aborted babies and two of those born alive had severe deformities of the central nervous system.