RadiThor’s most famous customer was Eben Byers, a Pittsburgh industrialist and amateur golfer of some repute. Byers first became acquainted with RadiThor when he took it to help heal a broken arm. Although the product contained no narcotics at all, Byers became at least psychologically, if not physiologically, addicted to it. He continued to consume large amounts of RadiThor even after his arm had healed. He reportedly downed a bottle or two daily for over three years, and sang its praises to all his friends, some of whom also took up the RadiThor habit.
In the end, Byers’ RadiThor addiction killed him. Unfortunately, ingested radium gets incorporated into bone and all of its radiation energy is, therefore, deposited in bone tissue. Over time, the radium delivered a whopping radiation dose to Byers’ skeleton. He developed holes in his skull, lost most of his jaw and suffered a variety of other bone-related illnesses. Ultimately, he died a gruesome death on March 31, 1932.
Relearning radioactivity lesson
The shame of this was that the dangers of ingested radium were already known, even before Byers started taking RadiThor. As I describe in my book, “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” the medical community had been studying the health effects of radium since its discovery by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. British scientist Walter Lazarus-Barlow had published as early as 1913 that ingested radium goes into bone. And in 1914, Ernst Zueblin, a medical professor at the University of Maryland, published a review of 700 medical reports, many of which showed that bone necrosis and ulcerations were a frequent side effect from ingesting radium. Unfortunately, the early red flags went unnoticed, and RadiThor sales remained strong through the 1920s.