Sidney M. Wolfe, Scourge of the Pharmaceutical Industry, Dies at 86

Sidney M. Wolfe, a physician and consumer advocate who for more than 40 years hounded the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration over high prices, dangerous side effects and overlooked health hazards, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to the world of medical care, died on Monday at his home in Washington. He was 86.

His wife, Suzanne Goldberg, said the cause was a brain tumor.

Along with the consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Dr. Wolfe founded the Health Research Group in 1971, and over the next four decades used it as a base for his relentless campaigns on behalf of health care users. At the door to his office, on the seventh floor of a dingy building near Dupont Circle in Washington, he hung a sign that read “Populus iamdudum defutatus est” — Latin for, roughly, “The people have been screwed long enough.”

His strategy, built around what he called “research-based advocacy,” was to flood the zone with information: news releases, congressional testimonies and interviews in the news media. A visitor to his office would invariably come away with a stack of reports recently issued by the Health Research Group.

Dr. Wolfe’s first effort, a few months before officially founding the group, was to write a letter with Mr. Nader to the F.D.A. about contamination in bags of intravenous fluid manufactured by Abbott Laboratories — and then to release the letter to the news media. Within two days, some two million bags had been recalled.

Dr. Wolfe, partly obscured at center, appeared with his fellow consumer advocate Ralph Nader, right, in a news conference in Philadelphia in 1971. They were joined by Anthony Mazzocchi, a labor leader.Credit…via Historic Images

The IV case “led me to think that there were an awful lot of problems that had been well documented, but no one had done anything about them,” he told The Washington Post in 1989.

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