Adverse Events Reporting -- the Tip of an Iceberg
Shamoo, Adil E.
Accountability in Research 2001; 8(3): 197-218
NIH data indicate that annually seven million human subjects are enrolled in research sponsored by NIH alone. In addition, there are sixteen federal agencies and numerous departments outside NIH conducting experiments with human subjects. Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry spends $26 billion on research (compared to $16 billion for NIH), thus, the total number of human subjects enrolled in research for both the public and private sectors can be estimated as high as nineteen million. I present data on the potential magnitude of adverse events in the United States among human subjects enrolled in research that appear to be unreported and unaccounted for. We obtained data from the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) through the Freedom of Information Act for the years 1990 to August 2000 regarding all Institutional Incident Reports (IRPTs) and a list of Compliance Oversight Branch Investigations (COBIs) involving Multiple Project Assurances (MPAs). In the ten years of reporting for nearly seventy million human subjects, there were only 878 IRPTs and 41 investigations. From the incident reports to OHRP, 44% involved adverse events. Those projects investigated for Multiple Project Assurances violations (41 such investigations) showed that 51% were suspended or terminated. The number of deaths reported to OHRP in ten years for the seventy million human subjects is merely eight. The anticipated number of deaths among the general population in seventy million (assuming subject's duration in trials is one month) is 51,000. The number of suicides and attempted suicides alone among the seventy million expected research subjects can be anticipated to be about 5,000. Therefore, the number of expected deaths should have been between 5,000 and 51,000. These numbers and percentages represent minimal numbers since they are not a result of random audits or investigations, but a result of self- reporting or an exogenous complaint. Despite the fact that these are conservative estimates, they represent a significant problem. The purpose of this paper is to present the potential boundaries and magnitude of the problem in the current use of human subjects in research. This is a call for responsible institutions to undertake a thorough evaluation of the problem in order to obtain accurate information. For the immediate future, strong actions need to be taken to increase the protection of human subjects enrolled in research. This precautionary policy is prudent in light of recent revelations and data from this investigation.
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