Drug Abuse Study’s Ethics Questioned

An advocacy group claims that heroin addicts participating in a Chinese study were not in a position to give their informed consent.

Cristina Luiggi
Aug 6, 2012

The Human Rights Watch, a New York-city based advocacy group, is questioning the ethics behind a Chinese study that tested a psychological technique for preventing relapse in drug addicts. The group’s main concern, expressed in a letter published last week (August 3) in Science, was that the human subjects of the study—some 60 recovering heroin addicts recruited from the Beijing Ankang Hospital and Tian-Tang-He Drug Rehabilitation Center in Beijing—had likely been committed to compulsory treatment and therefore not truly given their informed consent.

Because the study, published in April in Science, was partly funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Human Rights Group member Joseph Amon claimed the institute should “conduct an independent investigation of the research and denounce the arbitrary detention of the roughly 200,000 people currently in compulsory drug detention centers in China," he wrote in an email to ScienceInsider...

However, both the study’s authors and bioethicists in the United States and China have defended the study’s ethics and called the accusations unfair, ScienceInsider reported. “Confidential interviews with the study participants did not reveal any examples of abuses they encountered," the study researchers wrote in a response letter, also published last week in Science.

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