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AIDS Clinical Trials on Children Probed


April 25, 2005

Two City Council members are calling on the city Department of Investigation to probe a series of clinical trials that gave potentially toxic experimental AIDS drugs to 465 HIV-positive foster kids. Councilmen Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) and Charles Barron (D-East New York) made the request yesterday following the Bloomberg administration's stunning revelation Friday that the number of kids involved in trials was far greater than the 75 to 80 previously reported.

Administration for Children's Services chief John Mattingly has hired the nonprofit Vera Institute for Justice to look into whether the drugs were administered properly.

"We need a truly independent investigation - so why is DOI not investigating this?" Perkins said during a City Hall news conference. "Why is Mattingly allowed to set up his own investigation? Why is he being allowed to circumvent DOI?"

The investigations department probes city agencies for fraud, corruption and unethical conduct. The HIV program, which ran from 1988 to 2001, involved administering potent anti-AIDS "cocktails" whose side-effects included vomiting, diarrhea, painful skin rashes and neurological problems. The children, most of them poor and black, ranged from infants to teenagers. The Department of Investigation needs to look into why the children's agency "repeatedly underestimated the scope of the trials" and what happened to the kids involved, Perkins said.

Children's services spokeswoman Sharman Stein said the agency hasn't referred the case to the investigation department because an internal probe found only "inadequate record-keeping" and not "allegations of wrongdoing."

The trials, which involved kids at two dozen nonprofit foster care agencies, were done as part of a nationwide National Institutes of Health search for pediatric AIDS treatments. Clients were referred to the program by the Archdiocese of New York's Catholic Charities
[CORRECTION: A story Monday incorrectly identified the Archdiocese of New York as the group referring clients to a pediatric HIV drug trial. Physicians working at a diocese facility, and not diocese officials, made the referrals. pg. A17 C 04/27/05].

It's not clear how many kids died during the trial or whether non-AIDS drugs, including mood-altering medications, were part of the protocol, Stein said.

The Vera investigation will determine if the children's guardians approved treatments, whether children's personal doctors were consulted, and if the administration of the drugs was based on "sound medical knowledge at the time," she added. Stein said her agency hadn't yet calculated the cost of the Vera probe.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

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