Bad Medicine: The Worst Medicine Recalls Ever

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  • The sedative, Thalidomide was responsible for 10,000 deformities in children.
  • In 1982, more than 31 million tablets of Tylenol were recalled for being linked to potassium cyanide.
  • Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) was removed from the market in 2000 since it contributed to bleeding in the brain. Over 6 million doses of medicine containing PPA were sold in 1999.
  • DES was recalled after it was discovered that it was linked to different forms of cancer in women.
  • Painkiller, Duract was removed after only two years on the market for damaging the liver if taken for more than 10 days straight.

Medicine is a wonderful thing. From alleviating pain from an injury to removing that annoying migraine in a matter of minutes, medicine gets us through some of our worst times.

However, medicine can also be the culprit of some of the most horrendous incidents. Usually, when a particular drug is determined harmful to the general public, it is recalled immediately. Some of the worst medicine recalls in history have affected the lives of so many.


The sedative known as Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women to treat morning sickness. The drug was never approved by the FDA and was responsible for 10,000 worldwide deformities in children which included missing and shortened limbs. The National Institute of Health labeled the drug as the “biggest man‐made medical disaster ever.”


Tylenol is a household name and can be sold over the counter pretty much anywhere. But in 1982 more than 31 million tablets were removed from store shelves due to deaths that connected the pills to potassium cyanide. The reason or person responsible still hasn’t been determined.

Tylenol had another recall in 2010 when several of its gelcaps for adults and children contained an odor similar to mold as well as black spots.

PPA Drugs

Drugs containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA) were removed from the market in 2000 due to its link to bleeding in the brain. The FDA made the unilateral decision to remove access to the drug.

The biggest concern with PPA is that it’s included in numerous types of drugs like nasal decongestants, and weight loss pills. The FDA says that over 6 million doses of medicine that contain PPA were sold in 1999. This recall affected companies across the board.

Diethylstilbestrol (DES)

DES is a type of synthetic estrogen drug given to pregnant women to help them with unwanted issues during their pregnancy. It has been reported that between 5 and 10 million mothers and their babies have been exposed to the drug.

The drug was recalled once it was discovered that it was connected to different types of cancer in women. Rather than help prevent complications during pregnancy, the drug actually disturbed the endocrine system.


One of the shortest tenures of a drug on the market was Duract, which only lasted two years. It was removed in 1999 once it was discovered to be associated with liver injury if taken for longer than 10 days.

Out of the approximately 300,000 people who took the drug for longer than 10 days, 4 died, 8 had liver transplants, and 12 others had serious side effects that severely affected their livers. Other side effects of the drug included jaundice and hepatitis.