Some use clinical trials as way to make money, receive health care

by: Robyn McGlohn Updated:


None - Many unemployed people in the area are using their health and bodies to make money and receive free health care.

They're taking part in clinical research trials to test drugs before the FDA approves them.

When 63-year-old Edgar Pennington lost his job two years ago, he also lost his health care.

“I was on my own -- no insurance,” Pennington said.

He suffers from numerous life-threatening conditions that require doctor's visits and medicine. Out of desperation, he jumped at the chance to be part of a clinical trial, trading his body for free health care and money.

“Several hundred dollars -- it came in handy,” Pennington said.

Pennington took part in four clinical trials. In addition to the money he made, he was able to see a doctor and get medical tests.

He's not the only one doing so.

“People are saying as they call, ‘I have lost my insurance, I have lost my job,’” said Yvonne McCracken, who has conducted clinical trial tests for 16 years.

McCracken said she fields calls every day from anxious volunteers. She worries that those without a job or insurance are mistaking research for treatment and a quick way to make cash.

The payout varies for each of the four phases in a clinical trial.

Phase 1 often pays the most -- up to $8,000 in a matter of days. It also involves the highest risk, because new drugs are tested on humans for the first time.

Researchers want to know the drug's side effects.

In phases 2, 3 and 4, the payout is smaller, ranging anywhere from $40 to a few grand, depending on the length and complexity of the testing. In these phases, the new drug is most often tested on people already diagnosed with a condition, and it's compared to other drugs on the market.

One option Eyewitness News found a lot of people taking is less risky: donating plasma. At CSL Behring in Charlotte, Eyewitness News talked with people who make about $60 a week.

One man said he’s been doing it twice a week for a year.

“When your pockets are empty, you'll try to do something to make ends meet,” he said.

The company said it has seen a trend: As the economy has suffered, plasma donations have increased.

Sade Richardson is the perfect example.

“My momma do it, my grandma do it, my sister do it -- pretty much my whole family do it,” Richardson said.

“I've always joked about going and giving your platelets and plasma,” Pennington said.

Pennington said he doesn't consider himself a human guinea pig, but just another person trying to get by in a down economy.

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