Government injecting veterans with cocaine for drug addiction research
(WASHINGTON EXAMINER) Drug-addicted veterans are being injected with cocaine by researchers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in taxpayer-funded studies, The Examiner has learned.
The study subjects are being given the injections as part of a search for medicines that researchers hope will block cocaine absorption in the body, said Timothy O’Leary, the VA’s acting director of research and development.
All the subjects were recruited because they were addicted to cocaine, O’Leary said. About 40 volunteers — most of them veterans — are being given injections at VA labs in Kansas City and San Antonio, he added.
Hundreds of veterans have apparently been used as human subjects in the past decade, according to records and interviews with officials.
The VA has handed over several other abstracts from studies over the past decade, and O’Leary said his agency has been conducting such research for at least 25 years.
O’Leary said that the subjects’ safety was paramount. But documents of a decade-old study that tested morphine on veterans found nearly 800 “adverse events” from anorexia to heart tremors.
Last month, The Examiner reported that the federal government had spent millions of taxpayer dollars to give addicts drugs such as crack and intravenous cocaine as well as morphine and other opiates in publicly funded clinical studies. The VA documents and interviews suggest that the programs have been even more widespread than previously suspected.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 6,000 licenses have been given to scientists to use otherwise illegal drugs in their experiments. DEA officials declined to hand over their records.
O’Leary said the studies were desperately needed to find ways to treat addiction. An estimated 140,000 vets suffer from drug addiction, according to VA officials.
“As you know, there are a lot of people out there who suffer from addictions. It’s a huge societal problem,” O’Leary said in a phone interview.
Critics say that experimenting on addicts runs contrary to ethical guidelines on “informed consent.” The doctrine requires that human laboratory subjects understand the risks of the experiment and can say no. For at least 20 years, scientists have recognized that addiction is a disease, which means that addicts can’t simply say no.
Pressure is mounting on the government to come clean about its drug experiments.
“How many ways can the government get it wrong?” Cato Institute scholar Tim Lynch asked The Examiner.
Compared with the CIA’s former habit of testing dangerous drugs on unwilling volunteers, these programs are “an improvement if the research deals with volunteers and full disclosure of the risks involved,” Lynch said. “But it is not clear to me why the government has to subsidize such research.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said through a spokesman that he was “closely reviewing” the matter.
O’Leary said that the cocaine injections in San Antonio and Kansas City were being given in “extremely controlled conditions,” but when asked to detail what he meant by that phrase, he said he wasn’t familiar with those labs.
VA officials have not acted on a Freedom of Information Act request for access to their files.