In Memoriam: Sidney Wolfe, MD

Sidney M. Wolfe, MD (MED ’65), adjunct professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine, passed away on Jan. 1, 2024. 

In 1971, Wolfe co-founded the Public Citizen's Health Research Group, an organization that was pivotal in advocating for consumer interests in healthcare and pharmaceuticals. He served as its director from 1971 to 2013. He was a member of the FDA's Drug Safety and Risk Management Committee from 2008 to 2012.

His nearly five-decade career was dedicated to consumer activism, battling pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, and regulators against overpriced, ineffective, or dangerous pharmaceuticals and treatments—shedding light on issues related to drug safety and championing transparency.

Wolfe played a pivotal role in the removal of over two dozen hazardous or ineffective drugs from the market. Among the banned medications were notable cases such as Phenformin, a diabetes drug associated with numerous fatalities; Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory drug linked to severe heart damage; and Lotronex, an anti-diarrheal medication.

One of Dr. Wolfe's significant achievements involved petitioning federal regulators to mandate a warning label on aspirin bottles, specifically addressing the potential dangers of Reye's syndrome. This life-threatening condition was found to be linked to the use of aspirin by children suffering from the flu or chickenpox. Dr. Wolfe's successful advocacy contributed to enhanced public awareness and safety measures surrounding the administration of pain-relief drugs to children.

In 1980, Wolfe independently published "Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer's Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness." A decade later, Wolfe received the MacArthur Foundation, which bestowed upon him a prestigious "genius" fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, acknowledging his significant influence in shaping discussions around drug safety and public health.