Drugs, Lies, and Documents: Pulling Back the Curtain on a Monkey Laboratory

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After animal advocate and attorney Will Lowrey revealed that experimenters at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, were addicting monkeys to cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl, the school's PR machine went into overdrive. As the campaign to stop this abuse heated up, the school claimed that the monkeys used in these taxpayer-funded experiments would eventually be retired to a sanctuary.

That was a lie.

caged monkey

Documents obtained by Lowrey exposed that the monkeys used in VCU's addiction experiments are caged alone in a basement laboratory—which is another form of traumatizing abuse to these highly social animals. In some experiments, monkeys were strapped in restraint chairs and injected with cocaine or trained to inject themselves with the drug. In other experiments, cocaine was administered through catheters that were surgically implanted in the monkeys and would stay in place for nearly three years. In an experiment involving the narcotic fentanyl, the monkeys' partially shaven tails were held for 20 seconds in water heated up to 130 degrees—hot enough to cause painful scalding and burns.

According to the documents, following periods of "chronic dosing," the monkeys would be observed as they experienced drug withdrawal. Experimenters would "score" the monkeys based on expected withdrawal symptoms: lethargy—including "lying on bottom of cage"—"increased or altered vocalizations," vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, convulsions, and "wet dog shakes."

In television coverage of the experiments, a VCU senior official stated that the school sends the monkeys to a sanctuary after they've been used in the studies. But when Lowrey submitted a request to VCU for documents indicating that the monkeys used in the addiction experiments actually go to a sanctuary, he was informed that they didn't exist. And when pressed on the matter, the school admitted that the monkeys aren't retired—instead, they're sent to other experimentation facilities to be used in additional experiments.

In response to this revelation, Lowrey remarked, "It raises the question of, what else are they not telling us?"

The monkeys at VCU have endured as much injustice as any human in the same situation. They deserve to live out the rest of their days in freedom and with dignity. Urge the university to make good on its word and send the monkeys in its laboratory to an accredited sanctuary.

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Rao, Ph.D.
Virginia Commonwealth University

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