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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fast cash: Adverse effects of drug trials on human guinea pigs

Journalist Carl Elliott interviewed several human guinea pigs for a story in the New Yorker. One Iraqi man, living in Canada, began doing trials when he emigrated to Canada. He was living in a hostel and needed money to buy a car. A friend told him, "This is fast cash." When he enrolled in an immuno-suppressant trial at a Montreal-based subsidiary of SFBC, he found himself in bed next to a subject who was coughing up blood. Despite his complaints, he was not moved to a different bed for nine days. He and eight other subjects later tested positive for tuberculosis.

A human guinea pig in another drug trial had an even grimmer outcome. Traci Johnson, a previously healthy 19-year old student, committed suicide in a safety study of Eli Lilly's antidepressant Cymbalta in January, 2004. (Lilly denies its product was to blame.)

Alan Milstein, a lawyer in Philadelphia who has represented several human subjects, says about human guinea pigging: "This is not something you or I do. This is something the poor do so that the rich can get better drugs."

Advice to human guinea pigs: Read the fine print carefully to learn your rights.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read another human guinea pig story.

Thanks to Carl Elliott for the source story in the Jan. 7 issue of the New Yorker.

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