Question of the Week

September 30, 2002  


Before students who have not yet graduated high school were born, and, before most college students can remember, how we buy consumable products was changed forever. Food, drinks, and over-the-counter medication is now "Sealed for your protection." "On September 29, 1982, a 12-year-old Chicago girl woke up with a sore throat, took a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol, and fell dead on her bathroom floor. Within 15 hours, six more Chicago-area people were poisoned by Tylenol capsules, which were found to have been tainted with cyanide. All would be dead by October 1....Police believe the murderer had purchased the Tylenol bottles, tainted them with cyanide, and then secretly returned them to store shelves. A major legacy of the case was the introduction of tamper-resistant packaging on nonprescription drugs and food products."
This site also includes an audio clip from a news report at the time. It is just over one-and-a-half minutes.

This was a true story, but it was fuel for urban legends and copycat crimes.
"Claim: Murderers have tried to pass off their crimes as copycat Tylenol poisoners.
Status: True.
Origins: Complicating what people want to "remember" about Halloween poisoner stories are the copy-cat tamperings that followed in the wake of the 1982 Tylenol murders in Chicago....
"We live with the Tylenol legacy even to this day; you have only to visit a local supermarket or pharmacy to see evidence of this. Tamper-proof packaging has become the norm and safety seals on even the most innocuous items are to be expected. As a nation, we lost our innocence in 1982." (For more information about how this crime was copied and how it has worked it's way into urban legends, you can get background and history at the above address.)

"'This was an outbreak of chemical terrorism,' recalled Cook County Medical Examiner Edmund Donoghue, who investigated the 1982 killings as the office's chief deputy. 'It was kind of a ridiculous thought at the time that Tylenol, the world's greatest pain reliever, would have killed someone.' John Fellmann, a captain with the Arlington Heights police in suburban Chicago who helped investigate the Tylenol killings, said the anthrax scare has given him a case of deja vu. 'Something you trust, the mail, is killing you,' he said."

While difficult for some children and teens today to grasp, people once assumed that a lid on something was all it needed. The top was not to keep others out, it was to keep the contents in. Now, lids serve more than one purpose.

This one event that killed seven people in one region of the country changed the way that people think, shop, and look at the products they are buying.

Question of the Week:
How have isolated incidents, such as this one in the Chicago area in 1982 and others, changed our behavior so as to possibly save other lives? What more we should be doing, or are the changes we have already made sufficient?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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