Fred, an individual with AIDS, finds it difficult to walk the five steps from his bed to his bathroom. "I would just lie there for two hours; I couldn't get up to take those five steps. When I was taken to the hospital, I had to have someone come over to dress me. It's that kind of severe fatigue.The quality of my life was pitiful. (Farber 7)." While Fred suffers from AIDS, his severe fatigue is not a side effect of the disease. Rather, it is one of the many side effects of the medication Azidothymidine (AZT). For over a decade, AZT would be the only drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of HIV and AIDS, despite the flawed research used to support this drugs effectiveness, despite the studies that disproved this drugs usefulness in the treatment of HIV and AIDS, and despite the severe side effects it produced in most HIV and AIDS patients.
AZT was first used in 1964 as a form of chemotherapy for cancer patients, but it was discontinued because it was toxic, expensive to produce, and ineffective against cancer (1). In 1983, nearly twenty years later, the same drug was pulled off the storage shelf and declared as a promising new drug for AIDS treatment. At this time it was found that AZT was able to kill the HIV virus in vitro (1).
In 1983, researchers discovered that AZT had the power to kill the HIV virus in vitro. Upon this discovery, the British pharmaceutical company Burroughs-Wellcome sent AZT, known then as compound S, to the National Cancer Institute where further testing could be conducted (1). The first major testing began in February 1986. There were fewer than 300 subjects in the original testing. The participants were divided into a placebo group and a group that received AZT treatment (Burkett 5). Six months into the study, 19 placebo patients and only 1 AZT patient had died. With these prelimanary results so promising, it appeared unethical for researchers to continue the study; so research was stopped immediately, and all subjects were started on AZT (5).