VA using PTSD sufferers in drug testing

June 17, 2008 at 4:11 PM

WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- U.S. veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are subjects of U.S. government-approved testing of drugs with severe side effects, a news investigation found.

In one Veterans Affairs drug-testing program, the Washington Times-ABC News investigation found veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder were given the anti-smoking drug Chantix, which has been barred by the agencies overseeing air and truck transport industries because of its hallucinatory side effects

A medical ethicist said the VA's behavior in the Chantix study violated protections in medical experiments.

"When you're taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, people who have served the country, and the agency that's responsible for their welfare isn't putting their welfare first, that's a pretty serious breach of ethics," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at University of Pennsylvania.

In all, nearly 1,000 veterans with PTSD were enrolled in the study to test different methods of ending smoking, with 143 using Chantix. The VA still tests Chantix on veterans, despite its reported problems.

Miles McFall, director of the VA's programs for PTSD sufferers, said the agency was aware of warnings issued by the Food and Drug Administration and "we took all precautions ... so it can be used safely."

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