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Should Animals Be Used To Test "Party Pills"?

New Zealand is considering if psychoactive drugs should be tested on animals

There are many different views on whether or not nonhuman animals (animals) should be used to test drugs that are meant to be used solely or primarily by human animals. And, there's a good reason for debate and skepticism. Indeed, it's well known that the vast majority of drugs that pass tests on animals do not work on humans. To quote from this report, "The FDA reports that 92 percent of drugs approved for testing in humans fail to receive approval for human use. This failure rate has increased from 86 percent in 1985, in spite of all the 'advances and refinements' intended to make animal tests more accurate." 

Would you do something if there were only an 8% chance of "success"?

If we look at these data in another way, only about 8% of drugs that pass tests on nonhuman animals also supposedly work on humans. I know that if someone told me I only had an 8% chance of leaving my home and getting to town I'd decide not to venture out. My couch is looking pretty good. I'm not totally risk aversive but let's face it, 8% isn't an especially promising number for success. So, in drug research, a huge number of animals suffer and die for naught.

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Now, another question arises that is the title of this short essay, and one that will surely bring on much debate, namely, "Should Animals Be Used To Test 'Party Pills'"?" or psychoactive drugs that will be consumed by humans? This question is being brought to the table in New Zealand. New Zealand researchers use a large number of animals in research and I'm pleased they are considering if party pills should be tested on animals who surely will suffer and die in the research.

 In 2011, 327, 674 animals were used in New Zealand, a 35.7% increase on the previous year. This number, though huge, isn't close to the number of animals used in countries such as the United States. Thus, "In 2010 US government statistics put the number of laboratory animals used in research at 1,136,567. The above graph [also included here] shows the breakdown of different species used. It is important to note that these statistics do not (my emphasis) include rats, mice, birds and fish, as these animals are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act. Precise figures for the number of rats, mice, birds and fish do not exist, but it is estimated that approximately 25 million of these animals are used every year (my emphasis). The image of the number of types of animals used in research in the United States can be enlarged here.

I find the question of whether animals should be used to test any drugs to be one that is surely debatable and I favor non-animal models. Thus, I'd say an emphatic "no" to the question of whether animals should be used to test psychoactive party drugs. I'm not alone. New Zealand's Associate Health Minister, Peter, Dunne, said he had "'a great deal of sympathy' for the view that it was sad to test legal highs on animals as opposed to testing necessary medicines." However, Mr. Dunne wavered "because human safety is the paramount consideration." 

I appreciate Mr. Dunne's sensitivity and of course human safety is important. However, if I choose to do something or take something and I know it can be dangerous or deadly, then that's my decision and I would not want other animals to suffer because of my risky choice. I hope New Zealanders will decide that nonhumans should not be used in research on party pills. This decision would set a nice precedent for other countries to follow. 

You can sign a petition to stop this drug testing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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