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Thalidomide: the true story?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 03 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:933
  1. Annette Tuffs, freelance journalist
  1. Heidelberg
  1. ATuffs{at}

    A legal battle between the German media and the manufacturers of the drug thalidomide over the accuracy of a new television drama has thrust the 50 year old tragedy back into the headlines

    One of the worst tragedies in the history of drug therapy began almost 50 years ago, on 1 October 1957, when thalidomide was introduced as a sleeping pill by the firm Grünenthal onto the West German market. The drug, prescribed and sold over the counter as Contergan in West Germany, was launched in almost 50 other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, mostly under licence. It had sedating effects and seemed to be well tolerated and without toxic side effects, even in pregnancy. Two years later the link between the pill and serious malformations in newborn babies was discovered. Worldwide, about 12 000 children with limb deformations were born (no cases occurred in the United States because of a stricter drug safety law, diligently administered by the Food and Drug Administration).

    This anniversary should have been accompanied by the broadcasting of the television drama “Eine einzige Tablette” (“Just one pill”) in two 90 minute episodes on the German state television Westdeutscher Rundfunk, which had commissioned the programme from the award winning producer Michael Souvignier and …

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