The Accidental Poison That Founded the Modern FDA

In 1937, the antibiotic Elixir Sulfanilamide killed more than 100 Americans. “The first time I ever had occasion to call in a doctor for [Joan] ... she was given Elixir of Sulfanilamide,” wrote the mother of one of the drug’s many young victims, in a letter imploring President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to ban the medicine. “All that is left to us is the caring for her little grave.”

At the time, taking a new drug was like playing Russian roulette. It could bring patients back from...

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