Drugs in Research Lightly Monitored

Drugs in Research Lightly Monitored
Posted by FoM on December 29, 1999 at 17:17:12 PT
By The Associated Press
Source: New York Times
The government provides more than $250 million a year to universities studying heroin, cocaine and marijuana but seldom monitors researchers after they buy drugs for experiments. A university researcher overdosed this year on cocaine he bought with federal grants. A dozen others recently have been investigated for possible misuse of narcotics, federal officials told The Associated Press. 
About 4,500 researchers are registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct experiments with controlled substances such as administering cocaine to lab animals for addiction studies and using morphine or other painkillers to anesthetize lab animals. About 535 of the total are authorized to employ in their research the most dangerous drugs, including heroin, morphine and LSD. The government even provides some of the drugs, which can come from police raids. DEA officials say agents perform background checks, review research proposals and visit laboratories before granting permission to researchers. The drugs must be kept under lock and key, their use carefully recorded, the DEA said. The drug-fighting agency also tracks researchers' drug purchases, but it rarely conducts surprise checks because it lacks sufficient staff. Instead, it relies on state and university officials for primary oversight, DEA and university officials said. ``Our experience has been that the DEA in general ignores research institutions,'' said Dale Cooper, compliance officer at the University of Minnesota, where the researcher died this spring. ``They come out when you get your license and put the fear of God into you, and then you never see them again,'' Cooper said. DEA officials said they have only 400 agents to monitor drug manufacturers, distributors, analytical laboratories, pharmacies and doctors. Thus, they ordinarily don't check a researcher unless they receive a report of a problem. Dr. Keith Kajander, who ran a University of Minnesota dental school lab on pain research, fatally overdosed on cocaine in April shortly after he used federal grant money to buy a fresh supply from a California distributor. Kajander, 45, bought at least 80 grams (almost 3 ounces) of cocaine with federal money since 1996 even though his grant proposals did not mention the drug, police reports show. His DEA registration allowed him to buy the cocaine. The university receives $70 million annually in federal grants for medical research, half of which involve controlled substances, and has more than a thousand researchers working with drugs. Yet the DEA never investigated the school after Kajander's death, said Dr. Richard Bianco, assistant vice president of the academic health center. The university has strengthened its policies on drug buys. Although the DEA said it relies on state and university officials for primary oversight, some states also lack the capacity to do regular inspections. ``We rely heavily on the university to do its job,'' said Tim Benedict, assistant director of the Ohio board of pharmacy and president of a national association of state controlled-substances authorities. ``We don't have the resources.'' The University of Minnesota's Cooper said his survey of 26 universities found only three with written policies for research use of controlled substances. Kajander's death wasn't the Minnesota's first problem with research drugs. In 1998, burglars stole almost $4,000 worth of ketamine, a PCP-type ``club drug'' used as an anesthetic for humans and animals. And in 1991, a campus janitor stole heroin, cocaine and other drugs from a laboratory and died of an overdose. Other states also report problems. Legislative auditors in Montana are investigating the 1998 theft of painkiller drugs from an animal laboratory at the University of Montana. Twelve of the 2,413 drug cases under investigation by the DEA's office of diversion control in the last fiscal year involved researchers. Seven remain open. The closed cases resulted in letters of admonition or administrative hearings, officials said. Agency officials would not discuss the Minnesota case or any other investigation. Researchers undergo rigorous federal screening before they receive U.S. grants. Research proposals are carefully scrutinized, and experiments are monitored by institutional review boards. ``There's an entire infrastructure in place to oversee research,'' said Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which funds most research into drug abuse. Leshner said, however, his agency leaves to DEA the monitoring of researchers. Between 1,500 and 2,000 of the institute's grant recipients use street drugs in their research. Researchers say the threat of a surprise DEA visit, even if rare, is a deterrent. ``You're under notice that they can come in any time and look at your records,'' said George Ricaurte, of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, who has done federally funded experiments on the methamphetamine known as ecstasy.  Published: December 29, 1999Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company 
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