Long before Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil, the indigenous people used ipecac, a dried root, to treat diarrhea. Missionaries rapidly carried back news of this miraculous drug to Europe. In 1682, Jean Adrien Helvétius, a Parisian-based physician, administered his secret remedy to Louis XIV (shown here), whose son was suffering from a severe and prolonged case of dysentery. The concoction worked, and Helvétius was richly rewarded in exchange for divulging his secret ipecac-containing formula.
Starting in the 1960s, all parents were urged to keep a bottle of syrup of ipecac in their medicine chest to induce vomiting and empty their child’s stomach of ingested poisonous substances. That all changed two decades later when parents were told to discard the drug.
Why the revised thinking? It turns out that, while ipecac effectively provokes vomiting within 20–30 minutes, it does more harm than good when corrosive chemicals are ingested or when individuals are experiencing seizures or are not fully conscious. Its regular use by bulimics has led to potential heart problems and even death. Today, authorities recommend that the American Association of Poison Control Centers be immediately contacted at 1-800-222-1222 in the event of poisoning.