I had previously noted a distressingly anti-science bit in a newspaper called the "dcexaminer.com" on the website and apparently just "The Examiner" on the masthead. I've been following the story a little bit after the fact so let me just recap the events:
Examiner Staff Writer Bill Myers published:
- (a related cursory cull of a couple of related grant titles/abstracts is here)
I posted an analysis of the bit. I focused on the opinions of Bush's (now departed) Drug Czar John Walters who seemed to be the prime driving force, concluding:
That's wrong. It is harmful to our Nation's public policy on drug control and substance abuse to run roughshod over the scientific information in this way. It is specifically harmful to drug abuse science to misrepresent the studies in this way. It really, really is time to push back against this mistreatment of science when it comes to the political arena.
[warning: I embedded a video after the jump and right now it is stuck on autoplay, so you may want to mute until you get to the controls]
The first thing I want to point you to is the comment string on the original article. It rapidly devolves into paranoid comments invoking the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, alleged treatment of members of the military and the like. Suffice it to say, the misleading message of the article was transmitted. There is very little sense that the reality is that very limited amounts (in terms of dose and frequency) of drug are typically administered to human subjects. Little understanding that the amounts given are not likely (in the overwhelmingly unlikely sense) to alter a given subject's addictive state one way or the other. No understanding whatsoever that most human research protocols involve some sort of counseling of the addict on health risks and where to seek help quitting. Of course, why would they? The journalist didn't actually do any investigation and try to present a realistic picture of what was being done, he just parroted some Walters talking points in sensationalistic professional journalist language.
Janet Stemwedel addressed the ethical implications in her typically comprehensive and excellent way.
None of this to say that ethical drug research on drug-addicted human subjects is easy to design. But it looks like it should be possible to strike a good balance between the ethical principles of justice, beneficence, and respect for persons in order to protect human subjects while generating sound scientific knowledge that may make it possible for people to loosen the grip of addiction.
Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service recruited 399 poor, mostly illiterate sharecroppers for the now-infamous "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male." Its supposedly legitimate purpose was to determine whether then-available treatments for syphilis were worth their toxic side effects, or whether it was better not to treat syphilis at all. Participants gave their "consent" after they were offered free medical care for minor ailments (but not their syphilis) and hot meals. But the Tuskegee study went off the ethical rails when it continued for 25 years after penicillin was found to be an effective treatment.
Now we learn that government continues to use humans as guinea pigs. This disturbing news comes courtesy of reporter Bill Myers in a March 26 front-page exposé in The Washington Examiner ("Federal programs gave addicts street drugs"). Myers described a decades-long series of secretive government "studies" that gave cocaine, crack and morphine to drug addicts -- an undertaking that began, astonishingly enough, shortly after the end of the shameful Tuskegee episode. The studies are funded with tax dollars by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Participants reportedly sign "consent" forms and are paid to be government guinea pigs.
scicurious of Neurotopia chimed in with a post explaining the limits of animal research models when it comes to substance abuse.
When I wrote my original post, I was not aware of local Washington DC television coverage but a correspondent has pointed me to two short pieces.
This first bit on the local television news features a breathless reporter interviewing....um.....the Examiner Staff Writer Bill Myers? There's a small bit from ex-Drug Czar Walters but it's mostly interviewing the journalist who wrote the story? The story is the story, but the actual story is not? OMG my head whirls.
A response piece featuring NIDA director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. and ex-ONDCP head John P. Walters in competing clips. Pathetic and short but at least Nora got her licks in on the this-is-not-just-political-football front. Still, the brief set of clips they allowed into the broadcast didn't help much to illuminate the factual inaccuracies in the underlying accusations, nor to explicate the fact that the ethical issues are extensively considered.
Hmm. Well it is hard to say what Walters is really up to, puppeting these journalists for his attack on NIDA-funded research science. I'm sure this will emerge over time. Drop me a line if you run across anything that would illuminate the reasons, eh?
Rumor has it that Campbell Brown will be touching on this issue on CNN tonight so you may want to look for that.