Chinese Addiction Study, Human Rights, and the U.S.

Science published a report in April describing a new procedure that could prevent cravings and relapses in drug addicts. The study was conducted in China on human test subjects at Beijing Ankang Hospital and the Tian Tang He Drug Rehabilitation Center. Last week, Science published a letter from Dr. Joseph J. Amon, health director at Human Rights Watch, expressing serious concerns about human rights violations that may have occurred during the research for this study: In the Report “A memory retrieval-extinction procedure to prevent drug craving and relapse” (13 April, p. 241), Y.-X. Xueet al. describe experiments conducted on rats and drug users in Beijing, China. Although the authors state that the study participants gave written informed consent and that the research was approved by the Human Investigation Committee of the Peking University Health Center, substantial questions about ethical protections remain. The authors do not mention that the Beijing Ankang Hospital and Tian-Tang-He Drug Rehabilitation Center, where their study participants reside, are compulsory treatment centers run by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice (respectively), historically housing people detained without due process. Over the past few years, Chinese compulsory treatment centers have also begun accepting voluntary patients. The specific dates on which the research was conducted and whether the study participants in Xue et al.‘s paper were voluntary patients or held under administrative detention are not clear from the Report, nor is the standard of drug dependency treatment provided in either center.
Dr. Amon’s letter also mentioned that two researchers from the U.S. government-funded National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) co-authored the study, internationalizing the ethical questions surrounding Chinese rehabilitation facilities. This fact is further explored by a recent article in The Atlantic:
But the Chinese can’t take all the blame: It turns
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