A study about heroin cravings partially funded by a US agency and conducted in two Chinese drug rehabilitation centers raises serious questions about research ethics, Human Rights Watch said today. The research on memory retrieval and extinction in rats and Chinese drug users was published in an article in Science on April 13, 2012.
The authors do not make clear whether participants were in the two centers voluntarily or whether, during the six months of the study, they had access to drug dependency treatment that has been shown to be effective. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses in Chinese drug detention centers, including denial of healthcare; torture; and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Both Science and the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which conducted the research along with Chinese researchers and partially funded it, should investigate the ethics of the study, Human Rights Watch said.
Individuals in compulsory detention centers in China are particularly vulnerable to abuse and have little recourse for protection,” said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “NIDA and Science should investigate the way the study was conducted and make sure that the study participants were neither victims of human rights abuses, nor abused by unethical research.”
Human Rights Watch has conducted research on Chinese drug detention centers since 2005 and has found a wide range of severe human rights abuses in these centers, including physical and sexual abuse and forced labor. Recent reports in Chinese newspapers describe a range of drug dependency “therapies” in use at the two centers, run by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice, including custodial work, boxing, art, sand-play therapy, and “traversing rope and chain bridges.
The heads of NIDA and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy recently responded to similar conditions Human Rights Watch uncovered in Vietnamese drug detention centers, writing that, “The conditions described in your report not only would violate NIDA’s principles of drug treatment, but also would infringe upon internationally recognized human rights.”