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Politics Of Health

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Many of today's prescription drugs cause sideetïects. Mild side-effects include such minor diicomt'ni Is as headache, nausea, or drowsiness. Major sideeffects include more serious medical problems like: severo pain, vomitting, fever, hemorrhaging, loss of hair, fingernails, and teeth, bone deterioration, nerve damage, hearl disease, cáncer and dealh. Listings of side-effects warnings are the result of pre-release testing of the drugs on laboratory animáis, then on lnimans. The testing of new medicines on humans is broken down into three testing stages. During Phase I, the drug is tested lor toxicity (poisonousness) on a small group of healtliy individuals. If these peoplc survive the drug without major side-effects. it is cleared for Phase II, where it is given to healthy people in greater and greater doses until the researcheis feel that the limits of safety have been reached. Phase III involves testing the drug on experimental patients who have the disease the new drug is supposed to cure. Who are tnese "normal healthy individuals" who volunteer to have untried drugs tested on them despite the risks of being damaged or killed? Prison inmates. Dr. Robert Batterman, internist and specialist in pharmacology states: "Phase I is very big in prisons. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) prefers Phase I to be on an in-patient (live-in) basis - the only place available for large-scale toxicity studies is prisons. But the vast majority of new drugs, more than 90 per cent, never get into medical practice. They prove too toxic..." Prisoners are an ideal group for drug research from the drug companies' and the experimenting doctors' points of view. It is simple to map out a prisoner's daily routine and diet. Prison administrators enforce the experimental routines, and the Corrections Departments are paid a fee for the use of the inmates' bodies and lives. One drug research outfit pays the California Department of Corrections SI 5,000 per year for the use of inmates at Vacaville State Prison. Closer to Home, Upjohn and Parke-Davis have acquired exclusive rights to the use of inmates as "experimental material" at Michigan' s Jackson Prison, the largest walled prison in the world. The two companies maintain fully equipped laboratories inside the prison, complete with hospital bed space for 40 subjects. The drug testing facilities were built at a cost of a half milhon dollars to the drug companies. Then, in 1963, the research space was "donated" to the State of Michigan, although Upjohn and Parke-Davis still retain their exclusive use rights. The companies then wrote the arrangement off their corporate income taxes as a "charitable donation." But, far more important than their easily manipulated lives is the fact that prisoners work cheap. The average wage an inmate is paid for working an eight hour day in a prison industry is 30 cents, or $1.50 per week. Most drug studies pay $5-10 per week, a sizeable sum to most prisoners. Meanwhile the drug companies would have to pay up to $100 a week for free subjects. That means that the drug concerns buy prisoner labor for about 10 per cent of what it would cost them on the outside! There is yet another reason why drug researchers like to run their studies inside prisons: information rarely spreads beyond the walls. If a prisoner dies during a drug study, and many do, this fact can be easily concealed. The drug researchers are supposed to inform the inmate volunteers of the possible hazards participation in any specific drug study might entail. During Phase I, such warnings are impossible. The researchers themselves don't know what the drug will do. Dr. Harold M. Boslow, director of the drug research program at Patuxent Prison in Maryland was asked: "Does the inmate understand the effects of the drug?" Boslow replied, "Yes, we explained the whole thing to him." "Well, what are the effects?" "We don't know,"he said. "That's what we're trying to find out." Often the inmate "volunteers" are coerced into participation in drug research. One inmate at Vacavüle was grabbed öy four prison trustees who forcibly injected Varidase an anti-inflammatory agent, into both his arms for a "pain tolerance" study. This inmate subsequently suffered a near-fatal muscle disease, in the course of which he lost 30 pounds. He also developed chronic stomach ulcers. Virtually every major drug company is involved in prisoner research: Wyeth, Lederle, Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Merck Sharp and Dohme, Upjohn, and ParkeDavis. Drug studies on inmates have involved: injecting prisoners in Ohio and Illinois with blood from leukemia patients to see if this incurable cáncer can be transmitted, inducing cholera and typhoid fever, inducing scurvy in Iowa inmates by feeding them a formula containing no vitamin C for three months. Among the possibly permanent side effects recorded during this study were: heart damage and loss of hair and teeth. A twenty-year oíd participant in this study was almost crippled by it. And then there's that study of the new vaccine that was supposed to cure bubonic plague. Guess how they tested that one... Everyone, except the prisoners who endure it, makes money off prison research. Jessica Mitford, in Kind and l'nusual Punishment, states: "The participating physician cashes in on the programs in various ways...A research grant might run from S5,000 to upward of $50,000, enabling a doctor with good prison contacts to handily doublé or triple his income. Or if he is, as many are, a faculty member in a medical school, he can route the grant through his University to the acclaim of his colleagues and the tenure committee." "For the drug companies, they get to test their producís cheaply, efficiently, and without the hazard of adverse publicity reaching the outside world. The Vice President in charge of Research and Development at Wyeth Laboratories stated:'Almost all our Phase I testing is done in prisons.' "And one medical researcher cominented, 'If the prisons closed down tomorrow, the pharmaceutical companies would be in one heil of a bind.' " Enough publicity has cropped up recently, however, to worry the drug companies. How long can they continue drug research in the nation's prisons before public outcry forces legislation to ban all such testing? Forward looking as they are, the drug companies are already checking out the possibilities of large scale drug studies on the populations of certain Third World countries. In 1947, fifteen Germán doctors were convicted by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal of criminal responsibility for cruel and often, murderous medical experiments performed on concentration camp inmates. Seven of these doctors were sentenced todeath; the others to long prison terms. But twenty-seven years after Nuremberg, the experiments continue.