DDR: Patients abused for drug tests

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Abused patients in the former GDR for drug trials

Secret drug tests - a topic that causes goosebumps and which journalists Stefan Hoge and Carsten Opitz have made the topic. In their report “Test und Tote”, the two show how the former GDR developed into a central area for pharmaceutical trials at the end of the 1980s - documented in numerous, previously unpublished files that were found in the basement of the GDR Ministry of Health and reveal close and methodical cooperation between state organs, doctors and pharmaceutical companies from what was then the West. The two journalists not only offer those affected a platform, but also shed light on the “other side” in that a pharmaceutical historian and an ex-manager of the Hoechst Group provide background knowledge on the circumstances at that time.

Drug box gets scandal rolling The beginning had been a number on the media box of the electrician Gerhard Lehrer: the 60-year-old teacher was brought to a hospital in Dresden in May 1989 with a heart attack and was given a drug that the doctor at the time was still talking about had been praised. Teacher was released three weeks later, but there was no improvement - on the contrary, his condition deteriorated steadily. Nevertheless, according to the hospital's instructions, he should suddenly stop taking the pills and return the remnants to the clinic. But Teacher kept the rest of the medication and asked his wife to keep it safe in case she might need it.

A year later, Gerhard Lehrer died, and as if he had had a foreboding at that time, it is precisely through this pack with the remaining pills that a dark chapter of GDR history gradually emerges: Because as a teacher, Ms. Anneliese, through a report by When MDR learns of dangerous drug trials in hospitals in the former GDR, she quickly contacts the broadcaster and reports on her husband's case. And finally, the analysis of the pharmaceutical laboratory at the University of Leipzig sheds light on the fact that the pills that Gerhard Lehrer was given were placebos, medication without any active ingredient - teacher had apparently acted as a test object and had had to take pure dummy medicines instead of according to his heart condition to be treated with medication.

With a number on the box of the placebo, journalists Hoge and Opitz finally become aware of the background to the fate of Gerhard Lehrer, because the test, in which Lehrer's ignorant part was taken, is documented in the files of the GDR Ministry of Health and shows: Behind him The pharmaceutical company Hoechst, who had tested the active ingredient “ramipril” among teachers, was a drug experiment - a drug belonging to the group of ACE inhibitors, which is used to treat high blood pressure and to prevent it. The company had apparently been looking for new areas of application for the successful preparation.

Missing goods as a driving force for dubious machinations The drivers of these experiments identify two developments as the driving force behind these experiments: First, there was “poor economy” in the former GDR, which meant that everyday items such as fruit from distant countries were simply not available was, but also the pharmaceutical sector was not spared, there were definitely pharmacies, "[...] which 20 percent of the preparations could no longer deliver, at certain times", as the pharmaceutical historian Christoph Friedrich from the University of Marburg states and adds: " And of course that continued in the clinics. "

On the other hand, at the beginning of the 1960s, the largest drug scandal to date brought one to birth whose mothers had taken the sedative drug Contergan - which the Grünenthal company finally took off the market in 1961. As a consequence of this scandal, the then western government tightened the approval requirements for new drugs. In addition, there was a new legal basis for medicinal products, which did not come into force until 1978, but after which patients had to be informed in advance about personal rights and risks in the course of studies.

D-Mark for drug experiments The new law now presented the pharmaceutical companies with major obstacles: in order to launch a new drug on the market, it had to be tested on more test subjects than before, more volunteer testers - doctors and patients - had to be found and such Among other things, the former GDR proved to be a suitable location for the necessary pharmaceutical studies for FRG companies.

At the end of the 1970s, the journalist Carsten Opitz reports from former Stasi files, the GDR's criticism of the health system could no longer be ignored by doctors in the GDR. In order to quickly remedy this situation, the health minister of the former GDR, Ludwig Mecklinger, immediately contacted Erich Honecker, who in turn reacted immediately by releasing financial state reserves overnight.

In 1983, according to the historian Prof. Christoph Friedrich from the University of Marburg, "the course was set for a serious deal" in a meeting with the responsible central committee members: At certain clinics specially selected for this purpose, doctors should not yet be commissioned to conduct studies for western pharmaceutical companies carry out approved medication. In return, the D-Mark flowing for this purpose should be used for investments in their own clinics.

In their report, the journalists Hoge and Opitz show how these deals actually worked, it becomes clear how the negotiations for funds for every successful study were carried out in meticulous negotiations and how smoothly this trade apparently ran.

Using the example of today's disabled pensioner Hubert Bruchmüller, the filmmakers show the extent of the scandal: "We were not stupid GDR citizens [...], if that is the way it was done, it was simply done that way." He too - at the age of 30 - was admitted to a special clinic in Magdeburg due to heart problems and he was also abused as a "guinea pig" - this time it was the "Spirapril" drug from Sandoz. As the two journalists can show from the files, six of the 17 patients tested died during this experiment by December 1989 - until the doctors were finally stopped.

Trials only end with the fall of the wall The era of pharmaceutical experiments in the former GDR only ended with the fall of the wall. It will probably never be possible to finally clarify how much the state actually earned from each study, because the files from the former Ministry of Health are only partially available.

The journalists also repeatedly came to their limits here during their research - the patient's written declarations of consent remained missing despite repeated inquiries in clinics and the pharmaceutical companies mentioned. According to Opitz, however, the French pharmaceutical company was quite cooperative and sent some test files from Gerhard Lehrer from the Hoechst archive.

But those responsible could not have been found - neither on the part of the pharmaceutical associations nor on the part of the responsible ministries, allegedly no one knew about the patient experiments. The journalists could only locate a former GDR doctor who agreed to report something about his commissioned studies, which, according to Opitz, could be that "most GDR doctors like to use their healthcare as a space free from political and economic constraints." Would keep memory. "(Sb)

Image: Lupo / pixelio.de

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