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Helene Pavlov, M.D.

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Clinical Trials And The Lure Of Fast Cash -- What You Should Know

Posted: 12/28/09 01:52 PM ET

My daughter is in middle school and we are already talking about what makes a healthy teenager and adult. This education, like washing your hands, needs to be a routine part of their being. Concern about health is especially important when a child goes off to school or college. We hope our continued example by action and verbal advice will help her continue to make us proud with good grades and also stay away from potential dangerous situations.

One such potential danger is medical researchers looking for healthy students hoping to make a fast buck.

Medical research companies often focus on college campuses in order to recruit healthy students for phase three testing of drugs before they make their way to the FDA for approval. Why not? College kids are an easy target. Away from home for the first time, faced with insufficient spending money or reacting to peer pressure because "all their friends are doing it," these self-confident but naive youngsters are lured in as a pharma company's human guinea pigs.

Don't get me wrong. Testing for the efficacy of a potential new treatment is an extremely important part of the process. In fact, the testing and approval by the FDA of various treatments has led to some major medical breakthroughs in every field of medicine. Many physicians will even recommend that their patients with certain conditions enter into clinical trials in the hopes that a new drug or treatment may help them.

So how do you determine whether or not a clinical trial for a new treatment is right for you? Two very easy ways. The first is to get the facts. Medical researchers who conduct clinical trials as well the pharmaceutical companies and medical device firms and other manufacturers are required to fully document what they are testing and the methodologies they are using. After reading all of the fine print and understanding all the potential side effects, anyone considering getting involved should consult with your physician to get his/her take on whether the study makes sense for you. No two people are alike and there may be some subtle (or major) health condition which you may have that would be contradicted for the trail or put you at higher risk than readily realized.

Another important piece of advice is to be realistic. Clinical trials are for testing and not a means to introduce a miracle cure. There is a chance that something may work and offer patients a faster road to recovery, but note also that these companies are testing the actual drug against a control or a placebo. So if you enter into a study there is a 50/50 chance that what you are taking or trying is actually without value. This is the reality of a clinical trial and something every potential participant needs to be aware of.

Everyone, even a college student, opts for an informed approach when making a decision about entering a clinical trial. It is important to be aware and not let the "sales pitch," the lure of fast cash or the potential for a miracle cure drag you into something which is more than was bargained for. Parents with college aged kids should heed this posting and chat with your sons and daughters. Why not consider another boring lecture, e.g., "birds and bees;" "just say no to drugs", etc. from Mom and Dad. Knowledge cannot be overrated. Youngsters as well as adults need to know what they might not know to be wary of. Teach them about making the right decisions, and to think long and hard about things that can affect their health.

Helene Pavlov is Radiologist in Chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery