- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2015

Science or sadism? The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse and several other federal health agencies have handed out hundreds of millions of tax dollars on numerous studies to test the effects of recreational drug use on animals, torturing and killing countless mice, rabbits and monkeys with no apparent benefit to medical science, according to a new report from a watchdog group and animal rights organization.

Some of the most egregious examples, these critics say, include $9.6 million to inject LSD into the brains of rabbits to determine whether the drug caused an increase in eye blinks and head-bobbing; $7.6 million to investigate whether psychedelic drugs cause the heads of mice to twitch; $1.5 million to determine whether meth is toxic to mice brains; $1.1 million to see if meth-addicted monkeys would choose food over the drug; and a $709,981 study to determine if “lonely rats are more likely to become addicted to drugs.

According to a new report co-authored by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and the Animal Justice Project, taxpayers have spent over $150 million funding 95 experiments — some spanning decades — related to the effects of recreational drug use on animals, purportedly to gain insights into how such drugs affect human behavior and health.

But despite the high price tag, the researchers carrying out the experiments were subject to no oversight to produce results, and any results that did come of the questionable experiments appear to be of no value to human health, the critics say.

“Mice are not humans, and tests on animals often fail to mimic human diseases or predict how the human body responds to new drugs,” Don Ingber, founding director of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, said in the report.

“The NIH should be researching cancer, Ebola, Alzheimer’s, and instead they are wasting tens of millions of dollars on research that doesn’t need to take place,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “Once you get past the cruelty to animals, you just have an absolute waste of money. This is just unnecessary spending.”

For spending millions of taxpayers dollars on numerous recreational drug studies that are harmful to animals and likely not helpful to humans, NIH wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful federal spending.

‘Timothy Leary’s time machine’

“When you look at some of these proposals that NIH funds, you have to wonder if someone has been personally testing the psychotropics rather than just giving them to poor unsuspecting animals,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

President Obama’s NIH “should name this the ‘Timothy Leary time machine project,’” Mr. Manning added. “The idea of our federal government testing cocaine, meth and psychedelic drugs on animals should make taxpayers’ heads twitch — it is such an egregious waste.”

In an email to The Washington Times a representative for NIDA said the institute conducts research aimed at “understanding and treating the disease of drug addiction.”

The agency said it uses “animal models when conducting the research in humans is deemed unsafe” and said the use of animals “continues to be a critical tool for understanding the effects of drug abuse on the brain and body and for developing effective treatments for humans.”  

The grants are a small part of the overall $30 billion NIH research budget. According to the agency, more than 80 percent of its funding is distributed through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 2,500 universities, medical schools and other research institutions around the country and around the world.

Scientists who conduct recreational drug tests on animals argue that such studies help them determine the health effects of commonly abused drugs and may provide useful insight to improve drug rehabilitation programs for human addicts.

But other researchers argue that results produced in animals are not always applicable to human patients.

Several of the studies highlighted in the report proved to be a total bust and, in some cases, scientists killed test animals that did not behave the way they wanted them to.

Other studies produced predictable results. For example, researchers did indeed conclude that massive amounts of hallucinogenic drugs injected into mice’s brains cause their heads to twitch and that meth does have a toxic effect on their brains.

And researchers don’t have to produce results to keep getting federal funding, according to Julia Orr, a spokeswoman for the Animal Justice Project USA.

“They don’t actually have to prove that injecting cocaine into mice makes them do this, and that is applicable to humans because of that. There’s no indication that any of this is applicable to humans at all,” Ms. Orr said.

Almost all of the 95 studies identified in the report are still ongoing, and the animals being killed or injured could be in the millions, Ms. Orr said.

In a statement, NIH told The Times that it’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare does provide some oversight of studies that involve animal testing, making sure researchers comply with animal welfare laws. 

Rats, mice, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish are not regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, which means that it is not only legal for these creatures to remain uncounted during experiments, but researchers can do whatever they want to them inside labs.

“These creatures are subjected to electric shocks, are put on hot plates, starved, and isolated in an endless exercise in suffering. Experimenters even put clamps on animals’ sciatic nerves and paws to create constant chronic pain,” according to the report.

Recreational drug testing on animals has been banned in several countries, including Britain and Italy.

“These experiments are cruel and unnecessary,” Ms. Orr said. “This is a gross waste of money and needs to stop. It is unconscionable that we are inflicting such cruelty on animals in the name of science when it is clearly not advancing medicine. This abuse has to end.”

NIH says it is working to develop alternatives to animal models. 

There are other promising technologies on the horizon that still need to mature. Until these technologies mature or develop, all research projects are carefully evaluated to determine if any method could effectively be used in place of animals. If no other option exists, researchers determine the minimum number of animals required to do the research,” NIH said. 

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