Prescription and over-the-counter drugs have killed 769 children aged under two years between 1997 and 2000 in the USA. In addition, another 6,000 have suffered from serious side-effects.
Some of these children were affected indirectly, because the mother had taken the drug when she was pregnant or while breastfeeding.
Nonetheless, it hardly needs stating that these figures are extraordinarily conservative, as statistics always seem to be when it comes to reporting drug side-effects and reactions.
Although 2,000 drugs, including vaccinations, were implicated, just 17 were responsible for more than half the serious side effects, and four were suspected in up to one-third of the deaths.
Some of the main culprits included antibiotics, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, and treatments for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common childhood infection that can lead to pneumonia.
These figures are at the heart of one of the fundamental problems about drug testing and licensing. Although the licensing process can cost a pharmaceutical company around £150m, the drug is never, if rarely, tested on the people who may eventually take it, such as pregnant women, the very young and the elderly. Instead, it’s a useful way for young medical students to supplement their income and, because they are strapping, healthy young things, they don’t suffer too many side-effects.
Give the same drug to an elderly person already on a cocktail of other drugs and the result may well be very different. But then, of course, if the drug company recruited the pensioner to the initial trials, the drug would probably never get a licence in the first place.
To understand the workings of the drugs industry, and why so many drugs go wrong, read Secrets of the Drug Industry, which you can buy from the WDDTY website http://www.wddty.co.uk/shop/details.asp?product=341