The FDA Tragedy

Writing in the WSJ (Oct. 3), whose editors ought to know better, Cynthia Crossen says:

Only 70 years ago, American companies could legally sell poison in a
medicine bottle.

Obviously, no drug maker would knowingly kill its customers — the
free market would punish that kind of bad business. But a company
that inadvertently sold a drug resulting in multiple deaths faced no
legal penalties.

In 1937, however, the consequences of Americans’ unfettered right to
buy and sell medicine became disastrously clear. An antibacterial
syrup called Elixir Sulfanilamide killed at least 75 people, some of
them young children who had been suffering from nothing more serious
than a sore throat.

What a load of rot.  Here is a letter I sent to the WSJ:

Where did
Crossen get the bizarre idea that poisoining was not illegal 70 years ago?  It’s true that there was no federal law
against drug fraud but there was no federal law against rape either –
this did not mean that only 70 years ago rape was legal.  In fact, 
Massengil, the company that sold Elixir Sulfanilamide, was successfully
sued and punished under the common law of tort.

Dramatic, easy to see, tragedies like those caused by Elixir
Sulfanilamide and Thalidomide encouraged the naive to demand an
expansion of the FDA’s powers.  The less easily seen tragedy has been drug delay, fewer new drugs, and higher prices.  Careful observers
– see for some evidence – estimate that the costs of the latter tragedy
far exceed the former.  The FDA has put the nail in the coffin of more
than just the "pain and beauty boys."


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