The Unseen Survivors of Thalidomide Want to Be HeardHistorians in the News
tags: FDA, thalidomide, Consumer Protection, pharmaceuticals, birth defects, drug safety
The babies whose mothers took thalidomide in the United States were largely forgotten. Today, more than half a century later, people who believe they are the U.S. survivors of thalidomide have found one another through Google searches and Facebook groups, joining forces to fight for justice, recognition and compensation.
Historians say the lesson of thalidomide is one that society is still learning the hard way. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in an opioid epidemic that has its roots in the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the painkiller OxyContin and dishonest, aggressive marketing of the drug by its maker, Purdue Pharma.
Today, as the coronavirus circles the globe—claiming thousands of lives—there is a renewed push to rush potential cures to market, even if it means bypassing the checks and balances that were thalidomide’s legacy.
Jennifer Vanderbes, who is researching a book about the history of thalidomide in the United States, said society owed the survivors in America a debt of gratitude.
“They took a pharmaceutical bullet for all of us, not choosing to,” she said. “But without them, we don’t have the safeguards that we have today.”
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