Officials at the University of Minnesota announced last week that the school would repay the National Institutes of Health $11,000 in grant money that was used to purchase cocaine for research, after one of the school's researchers apparently filched some of the drug and subsequently died of a cocaine overdose.
Keith C. Kajander, an associate professor of oral sciences at UM's Twin Cities campus, died of an overdose on April 28. He had been conducting research to study pain management related to dental procedures, according to Moira Keane, director of the UM Research Subjects' Protection Program. As part of the project, Kajander was administering cocaine to animals. The cocaine was obtained through a program regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a UM audit showed that Kajander had purchased 140 grams of cocaine in 28 shipments since 1992, using the N.I.H. grant money to buy the drugs. After Kajander's death, UM officials were not able to account for the use of all the cocaine that had been purchased, though the audit was unable to determine exactly how much of the cocaine Kajander had snatched for his personal use.
So how do UM officials know that the coke that killed Kajander was the government's coke? "There's no real way to determine," Keane says. But because an undisclosed amount of the research cocaine was unaccounted for, UM officials concluded that Kajander had consumed -- and finally overdosed on -- the missing drugs. That's when the university took proactive measures to notify the government and refund the money. "We disclosed to [N.I.H.] that we'd had an incident," Keane says, "and that we intended to repay the grant money."
If Kajander had any history of drug use or abuse, Keane says, neither she nor any of the researcher's colleagues were aware of it. So who is to blame -- and who should be held accountable -- when university professors misuse drugs obtained through the federal government?
In the end, it's the responsibility of each researcher to keep his nose clean, according to Keane, who says that "the University of Minnesota has policies in place that meet DEA requirements" regarding the use of controlled substances in research studies, researchers' handling of those substances and laboratory supervision procedures. "But we're looking into enhancing those requirements," she adds.