The Best-Selling, Billion-Dollar Pills Tested on Homeless People

How the destitute and the mentally ill are being used as human lab rats

Carl Elliott
Matter
Published in
23 min readJul 28, 2014

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By Carl Elliott

Photographs by Jeffrey Stockbridge
Illustrations by Matt Rota

Two years ago, on a gray January afternoon, I visited the Ridge Avenue homeless shelter in Philadelphia. I was looking for poor people who had been paid to test experimental drugs. The streets outside the shelter were lined with ruined buildings and razor wire, and a pit bull barked behind a chain-link fence. A young guy was slumped on the curb, glassy-eyed and shaky. My guide, a local mental health activist named Connie Schuster, asked the guy if he was okay, but he didn’t answer. “My guess is heroin,” she said.

We arrived at the shelter, where a security guard was patting down residents for weapons. It didn’t take long for the shelter employees to confirm that some of the people living there were taking part in research studies. They said that the studies are advertised in local newspapers, and that recruiters visit the shelter. “They’ll give you a sheet this big filled…

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Carl Elliott
Matter
Writer for

Medical muckraking. Author of White Coat, Black Hat and Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream.