What is thalidomide? | Thalidomide

What is thalidomide? | Thalidomide

Thalidomide was first synthesized in 1954 in Western Germany by the firm Chemie Grünenthal, who found out that thalidomide had interesting sedative effects. Thalidomide appeared as a promising alternative to barbiturates that were then used as sedatives, because it didn’t seem to be toxic nor have any side effects. An overdose would only cause deep sleep, as opposed to barbiturates which could cause death if taken in excessive quantity.

Thalidomide was marketed in 1956 by Chemie Grünenthal in Western Germany, first as an anti-flu, then in 1957, as an hypnotic drug. It was then available without prescription. In April 1958, thalidomide was marketed in the United Kingdom by Distillers Company. Several countries followed suit and thalidomide was put into circulation under many different brands. Overall, thalidomide was sold under about 40 different names around the world, principally in Western countries and in Japan. Important advertising campaigns were led by its fabricants, starting with Chemie Grünenthal and Distillers Company. Thalidomide was described as a miracle drug. Thousands of samples were distributed to doctors, who were encouraged to prescribe it to pregnant women in order to alleviate pregnancy nausea. Everyone was told that this drug represented no risk at all for pregnant women.

It is hard to tell with precision how many thalidomide victims there are, because a lot of babies were dead before birth, stillborn or died soon after birth due to the severity of their malformations. Not all of these births were registered in proper form, especially considering that several thalidomiders infants are believed to have been infanticide victims. It is estimated that 15,000 children were born worldwide with malformations attributable to thalidomide. The victims also include the families of all these children, whose life were severely impacted by this tragedy.

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