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13. American Drug Industry Uses the Poor as Human Guinea Pigs

Source: COUNTERPUNCH Title: “A Reserve Army of Guinea Pigs”, Date: September 1997 Author: Scott Handelman

SSU Censored Researcher: Katie Garey
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Susan Garfm, Ph.D.

Over 40,000 human guinea pigs participate in drug testing experiments run by huge pharmaceutical companies in the United States annually. Most of these people are poor and “down-and-outers,” who need the money drug testing provides.

Ever since the mid-1970s, when the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued stricter rules on informed consent, high compensation has been necessary to attract research subjects for pharmaceutical tests. This generally means that the lowest income people in the U.S. are the ones who participate, since few people with comfortable financial circumstances volunteer to be guinea pigs for the drug companies.

The nation’s drug testing processes seem to be based on the exploitation of America’s lowest classes. Last fall, The Wall Street journal published an article that reported Eli Lilly, maker of Prozac, uses homeless people to test drugs for FDA approval. The Eli Lilly program, which pays $85 per day, is reportedly famous “through soup kitchens, prisons, and shelters from coast-to-coast.” A nurse at the Lilly clinic in Indianapolis told the Journal that the majority of participants in the Phase I testing programs are alcoholics, although heavy drinkers and drug users are supposed to be excluded from experimental programs because the presence of alcohol or other drugs in the body compromises test results.

Participation in drug and medical studies is a serious gamble. No one knows the long-term side effects of the drugs volunteers take. Animal drug testing, however, the mechanism that is supposed to minimize the danger to volunteers of drugs that have never been tested on humans, is unreliable. For example, in the early 1990s, the FDA approved fialuridine for healthy human volunteers after it proved non-toxic to dogs. Dogs, however, have an enzyme that neutralizes the drug, which humans apparently do not. Five Phase II patients died after taking fialuridine.

Even Princeton University’s highly rated program raises questions about the ethics of drug testing. The Princeton site makes participation especially alluring to the poor. The unit runs a courtesy van for easy access to the facility. There is a bank within walking distance, and the unit gives volunteers a letter to guarantee they won’t have problems cashing their checks. Screening participants enjoy a free, all-you-can-eat lunch. Once admitted to the study, they get free meals, shelter, cable TV, and a video library.

The nation’s big drug companies have never been known for high-minded ethical standards. Before 1900, orphans and street urchins were used as control groups in drug experiments. Testing remained informal in the early part of the twentieth century, as companies issued experimental drugs to doctors to try out on sick patients. But after the thalidomide scare of 1962, Congress passed laws to standardize drug testing procedures. Animal tests were then required for all new drugs, followed by experiments on healthy human subjects, who were most often prisoners.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR SCOTT HANDELMAN: “On November 13,1997, the FDA heard final comments on a Clinton Administration proposal that would require experiments on children and infants for the approval of new drugs that might be used in pediatric care. Following the ‘voluntary’ guidelines in current use, 75 companies are testing 146 new drugs on minors. The drug lords are fighting the proposed mandates—which will eventually require hundreds of new experiments—probably because they fear that minors harmed by the experiments will grow up and sue them. The drug companies allege that children who participate in the tests will be exposed to drugs that have not been deemed safe for adults, and that unnecessary tests will be performed.

“Meanwhile, in a study being conducted at the Warren Magnuson Clinic Center, at least one medically unnecessary drug study on children is already underway. The National Institutes of Health is administering Humatrope, a synthetic growth hormone developed by Eli Lilly, to mildly short children who are not growth-hormone deficient, in order to see the hormone’s effects on their adult height.

“Like their adult counterparts, some of the pediatric drug studies offer generous stipends. The Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio is presently recruiting children between the ages of two and ten for an FDA study of Proposetimol, a fever medicine manufactured by Upsa. After their children complete the ten-hour study, parents receive a $200 savings bond or $100 dollars cash.

“For information on human drug testing, contact Guinea Pig Zero, P.O. Box 42531, Philadelphia, PA 19101;”

  • MD June 2, 2010

    I mean really, there’s a lot of abuses in the pharmaceutical industry and in the health care industry as a whole, but this isn’t one. The people who sign up to do this obviously do not mind taking a gamble with side effects, and as a liberal blog you should defend their right to make that choice. Nobody is forced to do this even indirectly. The reason that the name is well-known “through soup kitchens, prisons, and shelters from coast-to-coast” is simply because the poor people involved with doing this WANT TO DO IT. They get some money for basically zero labor and plus they often get some of the best medical care they are likely to receive for the rest of their lives. Do you think the people who choose to do this would be grateful to you if you put an income restriction on those who could participate in these studies? That’s the only way you could eliminate this. Shouldn’t that sort of authoritarian caste division be against your values?

    If you’re not proposing that, then you’re basically blaming the pharmaceutical companies for people being poor and desperate for cash. No matter what, your argument is ridiculous.

    P.S. I’m sure you’ll dismiss me as some conservative, but I’m probably more liberal than you are. I just don’t feel the need to point at everything a big evil corporation does and say “Look, everything you do is evil” because the actual evil things they do are more than enough.

    • Millicent Broderick July 26, 2015

      This may aapear to be a very late response to your post but I was just referred tomthis site on an unrelated topic and seeking verscity for the first article I read this one about drug testing because I have some experience with that topic. I worked for 15 years in clinical research in Montreal and we mainly tested drugs on humans subjects for American companies. We followed well researched protocols and independen t review boards. every care and considerstion was offered the participants. we had zero mortaliity. the US came tomus because we could offer cleaner panels than could be found in the US…this was in the 1990s and 2000s. I participated in pilot studies myself from time to time and after imleft the company made extra Good money as a volunteer..making up,to $4k non reportable for birth control pill studies. one ingestion every week for 4 weeks, a weekend in the clinic and a few follow up,bloods. We were all post menopausal or hysterctomized women under 60. Most of those panels,,up,to 36 women, treated the study as a scoail event. so,I Have nothing bad to say about clinical trials..This is not my opinion of animal studies which is another topic. Once my company refused a study which was done in Nebraska I believe, resuting in a majority number of adverse effects. Non fatal. It is necessary and interesting work.

  • jennifer June 3, 2010

    People have a right, not an obligation, to be involved in the studies. I don’t agree with all the practices of pharm companies as they can be immoral. However, this does not negate the fact that pharmaceuticals help sick people and saves lives. Somebody needs to be part of the experiment for new drugs, whether it be a placebo or the actual drug. In the grand scheme of things, it actually helps more than it harms. The best way to mitigate harm is to have volunteers to help with studies. Trust me, conservatives would just like to put these drugs out there on the market without the science involved and the facts of the drugs being known to the public.

  • 4est June 3, 2010

    This is a ridiculous article.

    Please provide and example of how the VOLUNTARY method they currently utilize can be more fairly and even distributed among the various socioeconomic classes without violating the principle of informed consent before accusing them of exploitation.

    Please attempt to define exactly how their current method of testing new drugs is unethical WITHOUT appealing to conspiracy mentality before implying that their behavior is wrong.

    The example of fialuridine is specious and invalid as an example of unethical behavior. There is no clear indication given that the company was aware of the full pharmacology of the drug. The fact that volunteers died is very unfortunate, but they were more or less competent and accepted the risks involved.

    Reaching back to the late 1800s to provide an example of how these companies are unethical is irrelevant. Not only was the body of pharmacological knowledge much more limited, but neither were there legal standards for liability, child labor, informed consent and so on.

  • Me June 4, 2010

    I agree… They do this willingly and recieve good care…

    But if people in the US are allowed to sign their children for medical tests, this should be banned….

    The individual must make the dessicion himself and children cant do that.

  • Marty June 9, 2010

    If human beings test drugs and risk their lives for the welfare of the majority they should be paid a lot more than a few hundred dollars. Drug companies make billions and do not have compassion. They are “systems” or business models void of any emotion.

    What gives us the right to use animals for testing?
    What gives us the right to use animals for food? What goes around comes around. Animals have an excuse for limited thought being animals. We are human and capable of enormous compassion.

  • william June 10, 2010

    I don’t understand the problem. Gotta test it on somebody. Paid volunteers sounds fair. As long as they know they may die.

    It is a sad (pathetic too) thing indeed that health care is treated as just another commodity in this country. All profits beyond operating expenses should be removed from most pharmaceuticals.

    R&D for new ones would still be stimulated by insuring that new medicines could be patented and profited from for a given time period.
    Beyond that. it is insane what we have now.
    Has anyone read the Hippocratic Oath? How can we have society’s medical system based upon profit when that puts a direct conflict of interest between a doctor and his/her patient?
    The sicker the patient, the more business for the doctor, or hospital.
    It’s morally indefensible to adjust treatment to ability to pay/
    All citizens should equal in this respect/ But those with more money could buy what they wanted. In the US, we pay more than enough taxes to have good national heath service. and private doctors and medicine can flourish as they will along side of it

  • Chris July 9, 2010

    Agreed, it is voluntary so there is no issue there. I don’t like that they are actively testing on children but then again, it should be the parents choice when it comes to this decission. I guess the only problem is that it targets individuals with little or no opportunities… but that has been the foundation of our economic system from the beginning. It is no different than the US Military offering housing, food and healthcare if you will put your life on the line and kill some people.

  • Rick July 14, 2010

    I don’t think anyone who’s commented so far is seeing anything wrong here because everyone’s thinking inside the box. You’re assuming that these drugs are absolutely needed and intended to benefit everyone while forgetting that new drugs are created first with the intention of generating profit.
    That said, who is most likely going to benefit from these new drugs? Everyone?
    No. Those that can AFFORD them.
    Who are these drugs being tested on?
    The desperate and the very poor.
    This is a moral issue.
    Is this country, a nation that flaunts its alleged equality for all, really just another oligarchy where the very rich live by the struggle and sacrifice of the very poor? Yes.
    Is there/ can there really be EQUALITY for all in a place that gives priority to the people with the most money?
    And if you’re thinking to yourself, well they gotta test it on somebody, how else are they supposed to do it? its probably because you don’t consider yourself poor.
    The point is, if this is going to be a totally fair thing, the people being used as lab material, the people risking everything, should be compensated on par with people who risk themselves equally in other occupations. Deep sea welders, fire fighters, EMT’s, cops, even doctors, put themselves at risk constantly for the benefit of others and live modestly off their compensation. It should be the same for drug testers. No modestly living person would voluntarily risk their life for $200 in savings bond, much less volunteer their child’s life for that unless they were desperate, and that’s what these programs depend/prey on. The desperate and the downtrodden. I’m morally opposed to that, and the disposition of the system as a whole. This article touches on more than just the practices of pharmaceutical companies, it asks readers to question the fundamental assumptions and morals of the system we live by. More than that, it asks readers if they’re ok with sacrificing people in lower classes if it will benefit them in the long run.

  • Michele July 17, 2010

    I disagree with some of these posts. I was in a maternity home where all the women in there were required by the program to be on Prozac. Because I refused to participate in their “program” and would not take the prozac like all the other good little robots, I was “targeted,” and “written up” very quickly to instigate my removal. I was very aware of what was happening, but they operate in a very clever fashion. Oftentimes, people in these sort of situations don’t exactly have a choice. They are in vulnerable situations and are forced to make difficult choices such as agree to take a pill, or lose your place to stay. Preying on single pregnant women fresh out of domestic violence shelters is a pretty low place to strike, but, that’s how scandalous they are. It isn’t right.

  • Sue August 24, 2010

    If these large drug companies aren’t targeting the poor or those unemployed then let them just ask for volunteers with NO compensation.

    Yeah, right.

  • sarah August 24, 2010

    Look into almost any psych treatment location in the US and you will see that the “free samples” they have to give out to those with little or no insurance are all the newest on the market.

  • Sam August 29, 2010

    Since this is ‘Merica and we love us a good ole dog eat dog system, we should just test new drugs on pharm company interns. If they’re willing to eat the radioactive shit and possibly die to get rich, they obviously will have the moral standards to be in the healthcare industry!

  • tedbohne September 3, 2010

    LOTS of naive people here. These companies don’t give a damn about signing documents, nor do the people taking the EXPERIMENTAL medicines. They didn’t care and most didn’t know throughout the fifties, sixties, and on up to today. The Military is bad about this, as is the federal prison system. They put the stuff in these people’s food, and no one is the wiser. I’m alarmed at how little people know about Washington Machine.

  • tedbohne September 3, 2010

    the people on the RECEIVING end just care about the money.

  • shockedatyoupeople September 17, 2010

    i am surprised at how many responses from intelligent people do not see the problem and think this issue is ridiculous. clearly you have never been poor. clearly you have never had to take certain prescription medications that are capable of altering your personality in drastic and unforeseen ways that can lead to suicide. clearly you are as uninformed as the poor, who have to resort to getting money in any legal way they can, about the potential long term and permanent side effects that can be devastating and even fatal. clearly you have made all the right decisions, skirting the lessons in compassion and understanding that are learned only from life’s big mistakes where you came out the loser.

    or maybe not. maybe i am just a overly sensitive and caring fool, who knows.

  • shockedatyoupeople September 17, 2010

    let’s look at the BIGGER picture here, folks. the fact is, these corporations DO NOT CARE FOR HUMAN LIFE-PERIOD, whether they be rich, poor, intelligent, ignorant, pillars of the community, deviants, black, white, etc.

    let us also not forget the INTENTIONS BEHIND THE VEIL OF “HELPING HUMANITY”. how in the hell can anyone think corporations, who care not for the individual, are working tirelessly in their labs in order to create “cures” for the people?? it’s preposterous.

    knowing that “they” are poisoning our water, food and environment for many reasons-NONE of them good, should start to make one wonder just what these intentions are. i will not go into these intentions because the truth is faaaar stranger than fiction and those that are not even remotely aware would automatically write off whatever i disclosed as the rantings of a paranoid fool. i invite all the disbelievers of the diabolical agenda against humankind to do their own research. that way, you will not have to be tied to your illusions in the name of pride.

    the information is out there. in fact, it is EVERYWHERE, but “they” think we are too stupid to put it all together in a cohesive manner solid enough to evoke change. “they” are also not worried because they have taken extensive measures to INSURE THE MASSES DO NOT GIVE A SHIT.


    i would recommend researching government funded mind control projects first. that will give you a pretty good heads up on how deep the rabbit hole goes and how YOU, YES YOU, are being manipulated every second of every day in ways fit for a best selling sci-fi book. correction, HORROR novel.

    keep in mind, they have been using methods to inhibit critical thinking and induce apathy for decades-FACT.

  • Gerald September 19, 2010

    This is for MD, I wouldn’t say you’re a conservative, but you sound a lot like Rush Limbaugh in your reasoning. Many of the poor, or prisoners are people who have mental and emotional problems who a few years ago were in institutions, but the great Ronald Reagan put a quick stop to that and turned them out on to the streets. Everyone can’t afford higher education, everyone can’t get a scholarship, some people lose there jobs and still have bills to pay. Look at the situation today, people are losing their homes. Desperate times sometimes require desperate measures. I honestly pray that you don’t get kicked in the teeth by life’s circumstance.

  • Gerald September 19, 2010

    This is to shockedatyoupeople. The ruling class have nothing to worry about, because the majority of the people are clueless to what’s really going on in this world, they take the medications, they listen to big brother and so,and so on. Does anybody remember a little medication called Vioxx? 60,000 families of those family members who died using the medication remember.

    If anyone is interested, do a Google search on the word iatrogenic death

  • k p Sharma October 3, 2010

    Poor opt it by choice so, quite OK but they should be fully informed of implications. Children’s’ rights must be protected with suitable mechanism

  • wiggidy October 5, 2010

    The issue here is not consensual drug testing, instead folks should be outraged at the amount of covert, non-consensual medical experimentation and outright abuse that is taking place. Millions of citizens would be shocked to know that they may have been covertly implanted with microchip technology during the simplest medical procedure. While the masses have been duped to believe that RFID implants have positive uses such as locating missing or lost adults, children, or pets, it is a fact that these human bio-telemetry implants can be abused to discharge electromagnetic energy into the nervous system. This energy can then be used to alter the normal neurological and physiological functions of unsuspecting implantees. Electromagnetic energy can also be used to electrically stimulate certain muscle and nerve groups, allowing these devices to produce debilitating pain as a facet of remote, no touch torture. Last and certainly not least, is the capability of RF energy being used as carrier waves for embedded RF hypnosis and neuro-liguistic programming – simply stated…mind control. Drugs such as Central Nervous System and Cardiovascular stimulants play a major role in the programming by altering the human psyche to the point where it is virtually impossible for the subconscious mind to resist these human neuro-programming signals. Many people remain in disbelief that our medical and mental health sectors are largely patterned after the Nazi model of human experimentation and abuse. Elements of the U.S. military industrial complex have embraced the philosophy that for purposes of national security, the non-consensual testing of drugs and other technology is desirable and allowed upon those deemed to have “no purposeful place in society”. As a consequence of this policy, the benefactors of all this testing, whether consensual or non-consensual, are the drug company barons who desired to monopolize the pharmaceutical and chemical industries following WWII.

  • Tamika Mayoka October 24, 2010

    Hi,At last some interesting information. Bookmarked this one definatly. Thanks a lot

  • Researchprof August 26, 2011

    HAHA! I guess all you hardcore liberals want us to start testing more monkeys? Idiots… smdh…

  • Researchprof August 26, 2011

    HAHA! I guess all you hardcore liberals want us to start testing more monkeys? Idiots… smdh…

  • Researchprof August 26, 2011

    HAHA! I guess all you hardcore liberals want us to start testing more monkeys? Idiots… smdh…

  • Anonymous September 5, 2011

    Um, not really. Maybe if they implanted them very near to a nerve you might expect some minuscule effect. Furthermore most of the RFID chips used in implants have no internal power source, and rely on an external electromagnetic wavelength to activate them and retrieve the information.

    There is a large difference between RFID and electrodes my friend. You could do what you say with electrodes, but not with RFID.

  • Joe_Wolf September 5, 2011

    Um, not really. Maybe if they implanted them very near to a nerve you might expect some minuscule effect. Furthermore most of the RFID chips used in implants have no internal power source, and rely on an external electromagnetic wavelength to activate them and retrieve the information.

    There is a large difference between RFID and electrodes my friend. You could do what you say with electrodes, but not with RFID.