Durham County was tagged by the US Census Bureau this year as one of 14 NC “majority-minority” counties with non-Hispanic white residents outnumbered by members of minority groups.
Durham County was also one of the areas selected for a controversial study of an artificial blood substitute called “Polyheme” a couple of years ago.
Two unconnected facts? Read on.
I’ve written about this quite a bit, but the basics are these. Researchers (paid by the for-profit company that makes Polyheme) wanted to know if it worked better on trauma victims than regular treatment with saline and blood. One problem – you can’t ask permission to test an unproven and experimental treatment on an accident victim. So, the FDA and the NC Medical Care Commission gave to go-ahead for the experiment at Duke in Durham and other states allowed the trial to take place in multiple other cities.
Since the experiment ended, the news hasn’t been good. Despite the N+O’s limited coverage (and a headline that simply wasn’t correct), the bottom line was that Polyheme is no better than standard saline treatment and possibly worse.
As the Detroit Free Press put it:
Results of the trial, released last year, showed 46 of the 349 subjects who received Polyheme nationwide died. By contrast, 35 of the 363 patients given the traditional treatment died. Two of the 10 people in Detroit injected with Polyheme died. Both were black.
But here’s the real kicker from that same DFP story over the holidays. 13 of the 20 cities where the experiment was conducted are like Durham and have higher minority populations than the national average. In Detroit, almost all the people experimented on were minorities. Was that the case here in Durham at Duke where the trial was conducted? No one’s talking, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised.
You’d think in a state with a shameful history of an involuntary sterilization program targeted at minorities for decades that we’d be more cautious about involuntary medical experiments. I find it outrageous that two years ago this trial was allowed to go forward in North Carolina, especially given the information from other trials back then that Polyheme could be harmful. Now we find out that most of the sites nationwide were where there were large minority populations. Will we ever learn?