At the beginning of this week I had a terrible realisation that caused a couple of days of deep pain with tears following listening to a documentary on a medication I had regularly administered when working in General Practice back in the 2000s and early 2010s.

Points to know:

1. One thing you may not be aware of is that the moment a nurse takes responsibility for dispensing a drug, they carry responsibility for what happens when that drug is administered. This onus of responsibility is well above the nurse’s paygrade but that is how it is. So if the doctor writes a drug order that is not correct and the nurse administers it, then the nurse is as responsible for the drug error as the prescribing doctor.

2. The nurse’s Charter is to be the patient’s advocate. The doctor’s charter is to do no harm. I always took the nurses charter seriously and this sometimes caused conflict for me but who has ever had a job where there is no conflict? Unfortunately, if you read the AHPRA guidelines, health professionals registered with them have to all sing from the same song-sheet (obviously paraphrasing!) so if a nurse seems to be obstructive to the proposed health plan – even if it is on behalf of the patient, there can be a backlash for the nurse. Like, if-you-want-to-work-here (or work at all)-you’ll-do-as-you’re-told type of backlash. I have heard from patients directly of them being bullied into having medical procedures done and I have had no qualms in supporting the patients and their rights being protected.

The documentary was actually not focused on the particular medicine I am talking about but included it through the credits at the end of the 30min doco – almost as an aside. The drug’s generic name is Medroxyprogesterone acetate but the trade names are either Depo provera or Depo ralovera.

Depo provera and Depo ralovera are injectable forms of contraception that the woman only needs to have every 3 months to have contraceptive cover. I looked up the current information through the website. This is a website utilised by health professionals in General Practice and other areas of health for informing the general public on how and when to take the medication they have been prescribed and to assist in what to do if they are experiencing an unexpected symptom since commencing the medication.

If you are taking one of these medications or have in the past, I am hoping that your GP or Obs/Gynae (women’s specialist doctor) advised you of all the things listed in the PDF document (see links above for a copy to print). It could be you are male and taking this medication as part of your cancer treatment (according to the PDF).

What the research scientist in the documentary stated that so gut-punched me is that the medication has been responsible for sterilising women – a much greater step than contraception – and without the girls and women’s informed consent. And yet, I can’t see this risk mentioned in the PDFs. Just think – this can also equate to the GP/Specialist/pharmacist not knowing this information as well.

It may be that you’re of an age where sterilisation doesn’t matter to you or that even though you are of reproductive age, you have already chosen that you don’t want children for whatever reason. Take a look at the side effects the drug manufacturers are willing to acknowledge and consider whether any of these are desirable.

Any health decision is a personal one but the decision should be made after you are truly well informed. I knew about weight gain, changes to menstrual cycles and undesirable skin breakouts because women were reporting that back to me but I had no idea of the fuller potential effect. I did know that some women took a long time to get any form of a cycle back but I can’t vouch that some could never reproduce because that wasn’t my role in the surgery.

It is imperative you do your own research for any medication but the truth is, you won’t find it using the normal search engine that has now become a verb. Dr Mercola could be a place to start. Another excellent place for information that is hard to find is through GreenMedInfo. It may be that there is a minimal (justifiable) cost to finding out the information but I have found their sites full of valuable information that is either blocked or buried deeply by the common and highly censored search engines.