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WASHINGTON — Army officials on Tuesday defended their use of a potentially dangerous blood-coagulating drug on battlefield casualties, saying it is used only in the most dire situations.

Earlier this week The (Baltimore) Sun reported that more than 1,000 wounded troops in Iraq have been injected with Recombinant Activated Factor VII, a drug designed to treat a rare form of hemophilia.

The Food and Drug Administration said in a warning last December that giving the injections to patients who don’t suffer from the blood disorder could cause fatal strokes and heart attacks.

The Sun quoted several prominent physicians who called the Army’s use of the medication for non-hemophiliacs irresponsible.

But the Defense Department disputed those allegations, and said use of Factor VII is one part of the Army’s aggressive approach to battlefield medicine.

“We’re making decisions, in the middle of a war, with the best information we have available to us,” said Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

“[The drug] is only used in severe trauma cases where severe bleeding cannot be stopped. We’ll consider any new advancement or technique that might save lives.”

Chuck Dasey, spokesman for Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, said decisions on when to use the drug are made by military surgeons in Iraq and considered for only about about 10 percent of the admissions to combat support hospitals.

“A significant portion of combat deaths occur as a result of uncontrolled hemorrhage,” he said. “Some bleed to death even after all possible surgical repairs have been made. [The drug] is used by both military and civilian trauma surgeons for the control of trauma-related bleeding that cannot be controlled by standard means.”

Dasey added that the Army is working with the FDA on reviews of the drug and other hemorrhage solutions.

Defense officials also took issues with the potential threat the drug poses, noting the FDA’s warning is just a general guidance that does not rely on clinical trials.

Dasey said a 2005 analysis of the drug’s clotting complications done at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany showed “no increased complications clearly attributable” to Factor VII.

Army physicians have been using the drug in Iraq since 2004.


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