Chemistry 101: The World of "Nose Candy"

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In a development that could give new meaning to the term "experiential learning," a number of American universities are under investigation for misuse of heroin, cocaine, LSD and marijuana provided for research studies. According to the Associated Press, the Drug Enforcement Administration is looking into the research programs of at least a dozen of the 535 universities currently authorized to use the whole spectrum of illegal substances in controlled laboratory tests. Federal officials say the government, which provides $250 million for universities to buy the drugs, doesn't do much to find out what's happening inside the research facilities. Whether this lapse is due to disinterest or bureaucracy, the results can be deadly: Last April, University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Keith Kajander died from an overdose of cocaine. Although his proposals never mentioned using the drug in his research on pain, Kajander had been permitted to purchase at least 80 grams of cocaine since 1996.

Ironically, getting the initial federal authorization to buy the drugs is anything but easy; each study is subject to punctilious investigation at the beginning of research. But once an experiment is on the books, the money keeps rolling in without much scrutiny. Those familiar with Kajander's case, while happy to disagree on which entity is ultimately responsible for how the drugs are used, seem to agree on one thing: Both the government and research institutions need to pay much closer attention to the process — and the inevitable risks — of drug research.