August 13, 2006

After All, Look How Well it Worked Out for Retin-A

Who doesn't want to enroll more inmates in drug trials? The record is great. Safety, risk analysis, compassion:
Until the early 1970’s, about 90 percent of all pharmaceutical products were tested on prison inmates, federal officials say. But such research diminished sharply in 1974 after revelations of abuse at prisons like Holmesburg here, where inmates were paid hundreds of dollars a month to test items as varied as dandruff treatments and dioxin, and where they were exposed to radioactive, hallucinogenic and carcinogenic chemicals.

In addition to addressing the abuses at Holmesburg, the regulations were a reaction to revelations in 1972 surrounding what the government called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which was begun in the 1930’s and lasted 40 years. In it, several hundred mostly illiterate men with syphilis in rural Alabama were left untreated, even after a cure was discovered, so that researchers could study the disease.

It will be interesting to hear more from Larry Gostin, who chaired the panel:
The report also expressed worry about the absence of regulation over experiments that do not receive federal money. Lawrence O. Gostin, the chairman of the panel that conducted the study and a professor of law and public health at Georgetown University, said he hoped to change that.

Even with current regulations, oversight of such research has been difficult. In 2000, several universities were reprimanded for using federal money and conducting several hundred projects on prisoners without fully reporting the projects to the appropriate authorities.

Professor Gostin said the report called for tightening some existing regulations by advising that all research involving prisoners be subject to uniform federal oversight, even if no federal funds are involved. The report also said protections should extend not just to prisoners behind bars but also to those on parole or on probation.

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