Paid To Take Drugs: What It’s Like To Be A Human Guinea-Pig

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The time is 7.30am – a large digital clock on the side of the wall adorning bright red numbers informs me of this as I slowly open my eyes to look around the surrounding ward. As I do this a nurse appears and stands beside my bed, leaning over to check if I’m awake. There is a brief exchange of words before she begins to promptly check my blood pressure, note my temperature and extract a blood sample from the vein in my right arm. The procedures are swiftly completed and – just like that – another day as a human volunteer on a medical research trial begins.


Such an experience is not unfamiliar to me; as it happens this is the seventh time I’ve signed up to donate my body to an independent pharmaceutical company to aid the advancement and development of medicinal treatment. I say to aid the advancement, but the primary reason I’m here of course – like the rest of the seven other volunteers on my ward – is to make a large amount of money in a short space of time. Sure, it’s nice to know that the research conducted on your body will go on to improve treatment and medicines for sick people, but ultimately the majority of us wouldn’t be here in confinement getting needles stuck into our arms unless we were getting handsomely reimbursed for our time.

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Photo Copyright of ‘Quotient Clinical’

I mean, when you tell people you’re going to be a human guinea-pig in a medical research trial you are usually met by incredulous, shocked or worried looks. ‘You are going to let people experiment on your body?’ people say. ‘Are you serious’; ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’; ‘Are you going to be okay?’. And who could blame them for their sceptical response – it’s not exactly a typical way to earn a few quid. But as I eat my scheduled breakfast of cereal with a cup of milk and a croissant before playing the Xbox all morning, I remain content and sure in the knowledge that I am earning almost £200 a day to sit around, relax and occasionally piss into a container or have a bit of blood taken. A hard day’s work – not quite.

“But what exactly are you testing?” I hear the worriers cry out. “Is it safe?”. Well if we must get down to the details, I am currently taking part in a trial to test how the body takes up a new patent of the medicine Neulasta – a drug that has been used to combat the blood disorder Neutropenia that can appear when cancer patients are exposed to chemotherapy treatment. A 6mg injection on day 2 of the trial and then your vitals are recorded over the following week. The new patent itself has been tested on 120 humans previously which creates a sense of security in the fact you know you aren’t going to get elephantitis or grow an extra finger. There are however some minor side effects including bone and muscle ache, meaning I may need to pop a few pain killers every now and then. But hey, welcome to the modern age I tell myself; instead of selling your mind, body and soul to a faceless company, why not do it to a pharmaceutical company and get paid much better to sit around, eat and kill time.

Ironic really, as that’s exactly what I’m doing right now doing this – another ten minutes til lunch I see by checking the clock. Generally the three meals of the day, plus a light snack in the evening are the major moments of each day here. Yesterday was an eventful day however – a rarity in this place, which included a fire drill and a group quiz to all the volunteers where I was lucky enough to win myself a £5 Greggs voucher! (Easy money and food from all angles in this place). But generally the average day just bumbles along with a mixture of watching T.V, playing table tennis/pool/Xbox, talking to other volunteers and, of course, laying in bed while the nurses come around are perform procedures to record how your body is reacting, if at all, to the drug that is on trial. Not too bad hey?

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Photo Copyright ‘Quotient Clinical’

In terms of demographic, the array of people who take part in these trials is probably more diverse than you think. I mean the odd bods and the people who live on the fringes of society are definitely here, don’t get me wrong, but surprisingly there are a lot of ‘normal’ housewives, students and in particular self-employed people who manage to fit these drug tests around their everyday working schedule. For me? I guess I am one of the odd bods using the guinea-pig fund in between part-time work and study to pay for world travels. But it’s an interesting mix to say the least, and all sorts of random conversations can often be heard in the communal areas. If it’s not someone discussing politics, it’ll be someone discussing the meaning of life and the ‘rat race’ along with theories about aliens or whatever. You almost get the feeling that people are more open in here; the idea that you’re in a confined space for a short period of time with a bunch of strangers who you will probably never see again allows people to be their fully weird selves.


And I guess that’s what we are; the human guinea-pigs – the selfless soldiers at the forefront of the medicinal battle united in the quest to earn money easy and fast. Sure, you have to take some newly-developed pills here, piss into a container there, give some blood here and basically be an institutionalised number on a study (my wristband confirms I am subject number 55355), but still when I look at the usual mundane and menial jobs available on the market I fail to see the difference. The majority of the population give their bodies to a company and become their property indefinitely in the pursuit of money so why not do it instead in the heroic fight to cure cancer? To end Crohn’s’ disease? Or to rid the world of the common cold? As I finish lunch, put the Xbox controller down and head to my bed to give this afternoon’s blood and urine sample before a long nap, I remain content in my current career choice of being a human guinea-pig – a soldier of medicine; a cog in the machine for a better future. Now, if only I could get these blue spots to wash off my skin…