VIOLENCE IN THE IVORY TOWER: Aggression Studies on Animals

VIOLENCE IN THE IVORY TOWER: Aggression Studies on Animals

by Betsy Swart

A Civil Disobedience Action at Emory University, to protest animal experimentation.

While funding is unavailable for treatment centers, it is there to force addiction and other atrocities on helpless animals

There are nearly 10 million addicts in the United States today but only about 338,000 slots in treatment centers. Federal agencies like the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), whose annual budgets are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, are supposedly waging a war on drugs. But, unfortunately, their war on drugs is more and more becoming a war on animals, while human addicts are left crying for help.

Right now, in laboratories across the United States, dogs are being run on treadmills until their hearts give out; rabbits are hallucinating on LSD; mice are convulsing in PCP withdrawal; pregnant ewes and cows are having their uteruses invaded with wires and electrodes; and monkeys are vomiting as they withdraw from heroin. By the time you have finished reading this article, thousands of animals will have died. And the agony and death is all for nothing.

In a laboratory in Atlanta, a monkey is strapped into a restraint chair. Every few minutes, he hits a lever and cocaine is administered into his body through an indwelling catheter. This experiment, which costs the American taxpayer nearly $300,000, is set up to prove the obvious — that monkeys, like humans, sometimes prefer cocaine to food.

The researcher in charge of this experiment is Dr. Larry Byrd of the Yerkes Baby chimps peer from their cage. Their destiny: Addiction and death.

Primate Center and Emory University. Byrd uses squirrel monkeys and chimpanzees to study how cocaine and other drugs affect learning and memory. In an experiment, for example, three adult squirrel monkeys are caged in isolation. Each day, they are taken out of their cages and strapped into Plexiglass restraint chairs. Their tails are held motionless in stocks and two electrodes are attached to shaved portions of skin at the ends. Then the electro-shock sessions begin. By the time the experiment is over, each monkey has endured 126 two-hour and 79 one-hour shock sessions. In addition, five different dose levels of cocaine have been injected twice into each monkey. After the data from the above sessions is analyzed, the obvious conclusion is in: Drugs alter the rate of learning.

Byrd’s protocols do not mention human health problems, nor do they apply to the current drug crisis or its effect on students with drug-related learning problems.

In Georgia, for example, about a million dollars a year goes into addicting animals to drugs. Meanwhile, approximately 36,000 of the state’s senior high school students report increasingly easy access to cocaine. And the Georgia Department of Human Resources reported a stagger- ing 1,749 percent increase in clients seeking treatment between 1983-1989. But treatment centers in the state were only able to care for about 55,000 patients last year.

The discrepancy between patient-care and animal research funds is not just a problem in Georgia. It’s a problem in every state in the union. One treatment center director recently remarked that when the scientific establishment is befuddled, it throws money into research. That may well be true, but the root cause of the animal research boondoggle goes deeper than any bureaucratic bungling. It has to do with the most basic assumptions underlying Western science — assumptions which sell people short at the same time that they torture and gruesomely kill millions of animals.

One area of increased funding for animal research on addiction is that of pregnancy and fetal development. James Woods, at the University of Rochester, experiments on pregnant sheep to study the effect of cocaine on delivery of oxygen to fetuses. At 100 days of development, a pregnant ewe is forced to undergo catheterization of her veins and arteries and a pulmonary artery flow probe is placed inside her to measure heart rate and blood pressure.

Ten days later, she undergoes surgery again. More flow probes are placed in the mother and catheters are forced into the fetus. Cocaine is then administered to the mother — intravenously and directly into the uterine artery. Researchers probe what they dub the “mother-fetal unit,” or the “MFU,” until birth, at which point the baby lamb is killed and necropsied so effects of oxygen levels on brain development can be determined. Needless to say, the results of this experiment are impossible to extrapolate to humans because of the vast differences between the anatomies of baby humans and baby lambs. Furthermore, the hideous objectification of animals that permits scientists to refer to the ewe and lamb as an “MFU” extends to pregnant addicts on the street. They, too, are little more than objects for scientific disregard.

Dozens of other researchers study the effect of drugs on pregnant animals. The cost to taxpayers is staggering; animal agony is immense. Peter Danilo of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York is receiving $172,485 to study how smoking affects fetal development in dogs and guinea pigs. Picture pregnant beagles with their faces strapped into smoking machines. Sheldon Sparber of the University of Minnesota is receiving $96,033 to study exposure to cocaine in the fetal rat. Ernest Abel is using $119,850 to study how fetal rats react to marijuana. C.L. DeVane at the University of Florida and Donald Dyer of Iowa State are receiving $135,968 and $100,675 respectively to study cocaine in fetal lambs. All of these experiments go on while pregnant women addicts are repeatedly denied treatment in facilities in every major city in this country. Even sadder, many pregnant women are simply shunted into jail cells because no one is equipped to help them.

Similarly, since the cocaine-related death of basketball star Len Bias, funding for cocaine/exercise experiments has been plentiful. Fourteen new grant lines were funded last year by the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration to study the relationship between drugs and physical exertion. Instead of developing prevention, treatment or health programs for athletes, the government is now funding studies which induce heat-stroke in drug-addicted mice; run cocaine-addicted dogs to death on treadmills; and force addicted rats to swim until they die.

To make matters worse, ADAMHA, the leading funder of animal-based research on drug addiction, is now entrenching its programs even more deeply into animal research. ADAMHA and its various agencies routinely spend more than $600 million per year on research and development — largely on animals. For example, this year’s budget request by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — just one of ADAMHA’s offices—is for $400 million dollars, over half of which is for animal research grants. But only $27 million has been made available for the new Office of Treatment Improvement.

Taxpayers can expect the gap between animal research dollars and treatment dollars to get even wider. ADAMHA’s new project is known as the Medications Development Program (MDP). Last fall, officials announced that they had procured $27 million in seed money to begin the MDP and hope to increase its budget to over $100 million by the early 1990s. The alleged purpose of the program is to seek a “magic pill” to cure addiction. NIDA has announced that its top priority is to find a chemical cure for addiction — that is, to find another drug that will “turn off” that part of the brain that produces the craving for drugs.

Many doctors and mental health professionals adamantly disagree that any chemical cure for addiction is possible. Dr. Murry Cohen, former Chief of the Out-Patient Division of New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, points out that substances originally created to “cure” one addiction usually turn out to be addictive themselves and even sometimes become a drug of choice, not of rehabilitation. Cohen indicates that effective drug treatment is usually based on giving something up — not on adding new chemicals to the already existing arsenal. Robert Jessor, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado says, “I object to seeing the vulnerability in the person rather than in their poverty.” He maintains that the greatest risk of drug abuse is among children from impoverished families in drug-ridden neighborhoods who have no strong counterbalance from school or the community.

Many counselors and drug rehabilitation professionals are also cynical about the merits and intentions of the Medications Development Program. Says Kay Deffinbaugh, Director of the Detoxification Unit of York Hospital in Pennsylvania, “It seems to me that this program just makes the drug crisis profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.” The animal-dependent “magic pill” program does not address the underlying social and psychological causes of drug abuse. Craig Coleman, a drug counselor for 10 years, has observed that when an addict is weaned from one drug, she or he almost invariably takes up another if the cause of the addiction is not removed. In fact, a federal study released in August, 1989, found that as many as 47 percent of patients at 15 methadone clinics across the U.S. continued to use heroin or other opiates and up to 40 percent used other kinds of drugs.

The U.S. tax-paying public is beginning to wake up to the fact that their money is being squandered on programs that don’t help people. Protest demonstrations have already occurred in Atlanta, Baltimore, New Haven and Washington. People are asking why funds are increasing for these experiments when so many other glaring social needs exist. The reasons go deep and have to do with the basic philosophical underpinnings of the scientific establishment. One problem is that scientists value “objective” over “subjective” data. Unfortunately, that means that epidemiological studies of drug addicts and ethnographic studies of the drug culture are given short shrift in favor of animal research grants through which some kind of quantifiable evidence is obtained. This evidence — statistics such as how quickly a primate can become addicted to cocaine or how many times per minute a monkey will push a lever for drugs — do not help humans. But they are eminently publishable and they do give the false impression that some clear truth is being sought. Consequently, federal agencies pour millions of dollars into animal experiments on the mother-fetal unit, for example, but ignore pregnant addicts.

Furthermore, the tendency of the scientific establishment is to take the drug crisis out of its cultural context and to fight the war on drugs inside the research laboratory instead of outside on the street. One reason is that the statistics they come up with look good on paper and keep grants flowing in. But the real root of the problem is that the scientific establishment objectifies its research subjects out of existence. That is, addicts — real, needy, bleeding, vomiting people — stop being the real concern. Instead, some abstract concept — like finding another chemical to cure addiction — becomes the driving force behind research. Suffering people are forgotten. And suffering animals in research labs become nothing more than objects themselves — research tools — to achieve research ends.

Finally, scientists seem unwilling to replace a fragmenting approach to the drug crisis with a holistic one. Searching for a biochemical cure to the drug crisis is like looking for a biochemical cure for poverty or homelessness. Assuming the source of the problem is biological, not societal, means scientists can turn away from the complex, multi-faceted aspects of addiction. In fact, it even gives them a convenient excuse for evading difficult questions and overwhelming problems.

If we are ever to see an end to the drug crisis, scientists must immediately reexamine some of their basic assumptions about the nature and source of the drug problem. And animals must stop being the pawns in the war on drugs. If the agony of animal addiction research were stopped tomorrow, not a single human health breakthrough would be threatened. In fact, human addicts would be much better off. For the first time, they might really have a fighting chance.

Betsy Swart is Director of Special Projects in the Washington, DC office of Friends of Animals. She has written and spoken on a wide variety of animal protection issues.