Arthur Hayes Jr., 76; FDA boss calmed fears during Tylenol case

By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times / March 2, 2010

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NEW YORK - Arthur Hayes Jr., who while leading the Food and Drug Administration during the Reagan administration helped calm consumer fears after a Tylenol poisoning case and, amid some controversy, approved the use of the artificial sweetener found in Equal and NutraSweet, died Feb. 11 in Danbury, Conn. He was 76 and lived in Oxford, Conn.

The cause was leukemia, said his son, Arthur III.

Dr. Hayes, a pharmacological researcher, was appointed commissioner of the FDA by President Reagan in April 1981. He served until August 1983.

The biggest crisis faced by the agency under Dr. Hayes was a nationwide alarm in 1982 caused by the deaths of seven people in the Chicago area who had taken Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The case remains unsolved. Under Dr. Hayes’s leadership, the government and the drug industry responded by developing the first federal regulations requiring tamper-resistant packaging for all over-the-counter drugs.

In 1981, Dr. Hayes granted approval for the use of the sugar substitute aspartame in dry foods and as a tabletop sweetener. Research had found that aspartame was associated with high rates of cancers in rats that had been given large doses, starting at what would be the equivalent of four to five 20-ounce bottles of diet soda a day for a 150-pound person.

Dr. Hayes insisted that there was no need for people to avoid the sweetener.

Research done after Dr. Hayes’s time as commissioner indicated that aspartame can sometimes cause incapacitating headaches and even seizures.

Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. was born in Highland Park, Mich., one of four children of Arthur and Florence Gruber Hayes. His father was president of CBS Radio.

Dr. Hayes received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1955 from Santa Clara University and then went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, earning a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics in 1957. He returned to the United States to study medicine and graduated from Cornell University Medical School in 1964. He served in the US Army Medical Corps from 1965 to 1967.

From 1967 to 1981, Dr. Hayes was an assistant professor of medicine and pharmacology at Cornell. He later became director of clinical pharmacology at the Pennsylvania State University medical school. After leaving the FDA, he was dean of New York Medical College and, in 1986, was named president of E.M. Pharmaceuticals.