Special Report

18 of the Worst Drug Recalls in History

Steven Peters

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11. Fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine

Fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine are appetite suppressants that were widely used in the 90s. They were the “fen” part in the commonly known “fen-phen” obesity drugs, and were ordered off the market by the FDA in 1997 after 24 cases of patients with heart disease were linked to them. The “phen” in fen-phen stands for phentermine, which was not banned. Over 100 more cases of people with heart valve problems, who were taking fenfluramine or dexfenfluramine, with or without phentermine, were later reported to the FDA.

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12. Seldane

Seldane, one of the most popular antihistamine drugs ever, was used to treat allergies and symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose. In 1996 alone, there were more than 6.5 million prescriptions written for Seldane. After 13 years on the U.S. market, it was taken off in 1998 because of its potentially fatal interactions with other drugs such as antibiotics, including heart rhythm abnormalities.

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13. DES

Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic form of estrogen, was given to pregnant women for more than four decades, until 1971, to prevent complications such as premature labor. Between 5 and 10 million pregnant women and children are estimated to have been exposed to DES. DES, now known to be a chemical that disrupts the endocrine system, was also linked to several types of cancer in women who were exposed to the drug while pregnant.

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14. Accutane

Accutane used to be prescribed to treat severe acne. More than 13 million took it between 1982 and 2009, when it was withdrawn from the market. The medication, manufactured by Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., can have severe side effects, including birth defects and mental health problems, such as depression and psychosis, if used incorrectly. Other possible side effects include nosebleeds, joint pain, and skin rashes.

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15. Duract

The short-term painkiller was on the market for about two years until 1999. About 2.5 million prescriptions were written for it. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, which manufactures the medication, took it off the market because, if it’s taken for longer than 10 days, it can increase the risk of liver injury. Among the 200,000 to 400,000 people who took Duract for longer periods of time, there were four deaths, eight liver transplants, and 12 others with serious liver damage reported. Some patients had jaundice and severe hepatitis.