Video: A Deadly Mistake That Led to Safer Medicine

Jan. 18, 2018

Although the history of pharmaceutical manufacturing is full of life-saving discoveries, there have been a few accidental tragedies along the way. As this video explains, one involves a safe antibiotic that was mistakenly turned into a deadly elixir.

It all started in the 1930s when the S.E. Massengill Company decided to take a drug called sulfanilamide and turn it into an elixir, because syrups were in demand at the time. In order to make the drug drinkable, the company mixed it with a sweet-smelling chemical called diethylene glycol, which is commonly used today in antifreeze. What they didn’t know was the chemical was also highly toxic to humans. Ultimately, 105 people died from ingesting the syrup and the entire situation could have been prevented if the company would have tested the product on mice first.

In the wake of the tragedy, the FDA was able to fine the company for violating a labeling law and Congress rushed to give the agency increased power over drug safety. The new laws have been credited with preventing several other potential disasters.

For more on the historical significance of this one mishap, check out this video by SciShow.