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Dr. Oscar Resnick interviews one of the prisoners who were treated with DPH in a pioneering experiment at the Worcester (Mass.) County Jail.
In 1966 Dr. Resnick and I conducted a study on the effects of PHT with prisoners at the Worcester County Jail in Massachusetts. It was done on a double-blind crossover basis. Helping us with the study was Ms. Barbara Homan, medical assistant to Dr. Turner. The Worcester County Jail was a “short-term” jail. Although some of the inmates had committed serious crimes, no one sentenced to more than eighteen months was sent there.
From the outside the jail looked like an ordinary building. On the inside, except in the cell area, it resembled an old high school. For our work we were assigned a small room with a nice window on the second floor. This room was plainly furnished but comfortable, with a long table and some chairs. Liaison with the prisoners was handled by Lt. William D’Orsay, a kind and well-liked man.
Drug studies were not uncommon at the jail. (Clearance for the study was given by the warden, Sheriff Joseph Smith, and Dr. Cyrus Paskevitch, the prison physician.) It was the custom for these studies to be done with volunteers, paid a dollar a day. We followed custom. Ms. Homan did preliminary screening of forty-two volunteers, and eliminated twenty of the least likely candidates. This left twenty-two volunteers for Dr. Resnick and me to interview. These twenty-two volunteers were interviewed carefully. This was a study of individuals, not prisoners; we had no intention of giving PHT to anyone just because he was in prison. We were looking for individuals who had symptoms we thought would respond to PHT. Among the most important of these symptoms were: excessive anger, excessive fear, and an overbusy mind that was difficult to turn off.
After two days of interviews, eleven prisoners were selected. Most of them had participated in other drug studies and didn’t expect to get a medicine that would actually help them. They thought we were doing the study for our own purposes and they had volunteered mainly to ease their boredom. When we told them that we wanted only the truth about what the medicine did, they expressed skepticism that it would do anything. This attitude was good—it minimized the possibility of their being psychologically influenced.
In the initial interviews I was glad I was not alone in the room with a few of the prisoners. There was an animalistic bristle about them you could feel. One man had eyes with a yellowish glow that reminded me of an ocelot I’d seen. After a few interviews, whether because of PHT or getting to know them better, I felt comfortable with all the prisoners. Dr. Resnick left most of the questioning of the prisoners to me. I tried to keep the interviews comfortable and friendly. This seemed to help the subjects relax, and they spoke freely. Some of them were more expressive than others, but communication was good with all of them.
The eleven prisoners chosen for the study were interviewed for a second time, this time intensively. As specifically as we could, we got an inventory of their symptoms and complaints. Then they were placed on PHT (100 mg in the morning and 50 mg in the afternoon) and were not told what to expect of the medicine. They were interviewed several hours after the initial dose, the next day, and again at the end of a week.
Remarkable improvement in symptoms was observed. To see if similar results would be obtained under the most objective circumstances, we decided to do a double-blind, crossover to single-blind, study. To do such a study it was desirable to approximate the original conditions. We thought this could be achieved by taking the prisoners off PHT for a week. However, when they were interviewed at the end of the week, their general condition was better than when we had first met them. It was as though the week on PHT had been a vacation from their nerves and the benefits had carried forward. We had to wait a second week before the original conditions were approximated.
Before starting the double-blind study we explained the procedure to the prisoners. Some of them would receive PHT, others an inert substance called a placebo. The capsules would be identical in appearance—the prisoners wouldn’t know what they contained and we wouldn’t know, thus “double-blind.” Then they would be interviewed as before: a few hours after the first pill, after a night’s sleep, and a week later. At that time we would make our decision as to which of them had received PHT, and which placebo. What we did not tell the prisoners was that when this decision had been made, those subjects we thought had been on placebo would be placed on “single-blind.” They would be given PHT without being told it was PHT. In that way, further nonsubjective evidence would be obtained.
We were correct in our assessment of ten of the prisoners on the double-blind. We were incorrect in one. The unusual circumstances in this case explain why. (In the early part of the study, Danny R.’s response to PHT was like that of the other prisoners. During the control part of the study, Danny R. got news that made him think his daughter was going blind. He didn’t tell us, and we misassessed his realistic nervousness and decided he was on a placebo. It wasn’t until a few years later I learned that while PHT relieves unrealistic problems, it doesn’t remove realistic problems—a desirable feature. In the study it was observed that the eleven prisoners had many symptoms in common that responded to PHT. Among these symptoms in common were restlessness, irritability, fear, anger, inability to concentrate, poor mood, lack of energy, sleeping problems, and an overactive brain.
Symptoms not common to all prisoners, such as headache, stomach distress, chest pain, muscular pain, skin rash, and dizziness, disappeared while the subjects were on PHT and reappeared when it was withdrawn. This study was recorded on tape with the prisoners’ permission. Transcribed, there are 605 pages covering 130 interviews. The results were exceptional. Brief summaries of five cases are included here. The other six cases were just as successful. In the earlier edition of this book, summaries of the other cases were included in the Appendix. It is not practical to do it here. (For those interested in the welfare of prisoners, an 80-page condensation is available through the Dreyfus Medical Foundation, Lenox Hill Station, P.O. Box 965, New York, NY 10021-0029. The 605-page transcript is on file at the Foundation.)
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