Keep Out of Reach of Children: Reye's Syndrome, Aspirin, and the Politics of Public Health

Mark A. Largent. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-934137-88-8
In 1985, the federal government required that aspirin bottles warn about the drug's potential to cause Reye's syndrome in children. But was the claim true? This meticulous book by science historian Largent (Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America) says the answer is murky. Cases plummeted after a 1980 peak "in concert with the decreasing use of aspirin in children," precluding gold-standard causal proof. The toxic behavior of some involved parties, Largent found, was easier to spot. Despite studies finding a "strong" link between aspirin use and Reye's, the labeling movement was slowed by the anti-regulation mood of the 1980s. "Almost every area of vital concern to consumers was adversely affected by the [Reagan] Administration's relentless drive to deny the role of government in protecting citizens," said the National Consumer League. Unsavory tactics included one official's use of private calls and meetings instead of memos and testimony—to avoid "fingerprints"—during his anti-labeling campaign. Yet many labeling advocates were overly triumphant about the eventual labeling, Largent says, and mysteries remain, including the fact that Reye's disappeared "even in countries where aspirin consumption was always quite low." If one thing becomes clear in Largent's narrative, it's that the regulatory process itself is disordered. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/16/2015
Release date: 02/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-934137-89-5
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