Lack of Black Participation in Clinical Trials Is Killing Us All

African-Americans rarely volunteer for clinical trials, and we're the only ones suffering as a result.

Posted: 04/04/2011 10:52 AM EDT
Filed Under health care

Lives are saved everyday due to the leaps and bounds made in clinical trials in labs around the world. However, Black participants are hard to come by, making difficult to assess how new drugs will affect African-American patients, which in turn makes it harder to resolve disparities in health care between Blacks and whites.

African-Americans respond differently than whites to some medications. Some drugs are less effective (such as beta blockers for hypertension), according to netwellness.org. In general, studies have shown that clinical trials involving large numbers of Black patients are needed to further clarify their response to various therapies.

Before a new medication or treatment is approved by The Food and Drug Administration and made available to the public, a clinical trial is conducted, first on animals and then on human subjects if the medication shows favorable results. Recruiting subjects for medical research studies is difficult, but Black participants, a group who would benefit more than most from medical research, seem to be particularly reluctant.

Within the African-American community, there has long been a degree of distrust of doctors and hospitals, stemming most popularly from the Tuskegee Experiment. In a lot of ways, though, the field of medicine has learned from its mistakes since then and now has to answer to a federal Data Monitoring Committee and FDA inspectors who supervise and preapprove all research conducted on both human and animal test subjects. These groups are made up of doctors, ethicists, religious leaders and additional community figures whose job is to protect the participants.

Clinical trial subjects are usually paid for their time, but compensation can vary from solely covering transportation costs to several thousand dollars depending on the length of the study. Studies can last from one day to months or longer.

If taking a drug waiting for FDA approval is preventing you from looking into participating in a cilinical trial, rest assured that there are many studies that simply require participants to submit to a physical and follow up via paperwork every few years. If you’re chosen to serve as a control, you will be given a placebo, a substance that looks like the medication under review but is just an inactive substance (often just a sugar pill). You won’t know if you were given the real medication or not, and your reaction compared to that of the other participants who took the actual drug.

Should you choose to participate in a medical trial, ask plenty of questions before consenting and always remember you have the authority to drop out at any point during the research period. For information on how you can make a difference, visit clinicaltrials.gov and sign up for a trial near you.

Some questions to ask before participating in a clinical trial:

— What is the study about?

— Who put this study together?

— How/when will I learn the results?

— Who is going to be in this study?

— What will I get out of this study?

— How will I be protected from harm?

— How will my privacy be protected?

— What will I have to do?

 

(Photo:  Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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