Experimenting With Drugs

I experimented with drugs while at Syracuse University. Yes, and I am proud of this.   This activity was an added benefit of working at the Infirmary.


Syracuse University Infirmary, Waverly Avenue.

The Norwich Pharmaceutical Company started in 1887 in Norwich, NY and  exists today as a Pharma company  in Syracuse.  The medical Director of the Infirmary was associated with Norwich as part of their clinical trial drug development program.  I don’t know his exact title, though I do believe he was fairly high up in the medical hierarchy.  In 1957 he was middle-aged, about 45 or so, and likely held a Senior Scientist or similar position with Norwich.

Norwich developed a variety of pharma products. At some time in the development cycle, the drugs were evaluated with clinical observations from human volunteers.  What better place to find volunteers than at a large university?  

At the time I resided at the Infirmary, Norwich was doing much research on time release drugs.  I participated in many of these trials.  I will explain in some detail how this program worked, and then mention some of the other ongoing trials.  

The first step in the trial was to draw about 10 cc of blood from a volunteer, shortly before 8 am.  That established a base.  Then the volunteer swallowed a pill that contained the time release chemical including a tracer. Three additional blood draws were made at hourly intervals. These blood draws were analyzed to learn  how much of the tracer was released over time.   The infirmary was so close to the University that these draws could be made in the interval between classes.  This completed, each volunteer  received $10 for participating. Please note, tax-free money.

Then, gasoline cost $.25 a gallon, a movie ticket was $.75, and a good dinner went for $2.50 and a large sausage pizza $1.50.  I could have a dinner and movie date with a girlfriend and still have money left over.

 We residents made a point being on good terms with the staff to know the trial schedule. We referred to our compensation as “blood money.” We could easily count on one trial a week. Trials took no time or effort, just a little inconvenience and was better than slaving  away at a minimum wage job. I believe the hourly minimum wage then was $1.00. 

Some trials had undesired side effects.  I recall one trial that involved getting a shot in a butt cheek to check the carrier for a proposed drug. For this, we got $30.  Richard Novotnoy, another infirmary resident, and I went in for our shot and had breakfast after.

We were walking down Marshall Street and WHAM, I felt like somebody had hit my butt with a baseball bat as hard as could be.  It was a painful effort even to walk and driving was very difficult.  The car had manual transmission which was the norm for that time.  Shifting gears called for some fancy footwork with my right foot.  We limped our way home and reported what happened to us.  The Director was there and told us that every participant had the same reaction.  Some women were in such pain that they were sedated.  

The carrier was intended for use later with a real drug to be used for kidney disease.  Typical patients would be older citizens with renal disease.  If the carrier alone caused so much pain to young college students, it certainly would not be practical for real patients.  The trial stopped. In a day, I was uncomfortable but not distressed as I was the first day.  Was it worth it?  I think so and in a small way, I regarded this as my contribution to the common good.

Roy participated in some trials that I was not involved in.  One involved a study to decide the effect of UV on the skin after taking a genuine but trial drug.  Roy was fair-skinned and the study involved masking his thigh with the exception of a strip of plastic on the thigh.  This strip had  6 square holes, about the size of a postage stamp. The strip was covered in the beginning.   A research assistant would uncover the holes at predetermined intervals while Roy was irradiated by a sun lamp or similar source of UV radiation.  When the test was completed, his leg was uncovered and Roy had 6 small sunburned squares on his thigh.  The first square had the longest exposure and was severely sunburned.  The 6th was just pink.

I hope this had provided some insight into how the system worked.  I did trials until I finished school.  I volunteered for the NY Air National Guard in April 1959. I was given a cursory medical exam by an Air Force doctor.  By this time, my right arm was extremely pockmarked from all the blood draws I had undergone.  Doc took a long look at the scarring, then looked at me, but did not ask any question, so I said nothing.  I passed the physical of course.

So, I had given blood to aid developing new drugs.  For this I received a nominal monetary compensation.  It was a good deal all around and I am pleased that I took part.    




About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
This entry was posted in NY, Pre Marriage life, Syracuse, Syracuse University and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Experimenting With Drugs

  1. Kathilyn Bigler says:

    It was a win-win for all!!! I loved reading this!!!!! God bless you!!!! Kathilyn!

  2. Allan T says:

    Cool, I must admit the MONEY WAS GOOD! As you can guess this is still going on. Janice took part in one that had to do with the eye drops before & after cataract surgery. Instead of being paid, her surgery for both eyes(which gave her 20/20 ) cost $250 total. Normal cost would have been about $400 easy.
    Plus as you stated, you helped people.

  3. ingridmg2014 says:

    Catchy title for this blog post! I am glad that I’d already heard some of these stories before or I might have been shocked. 😉 I am also most certainly glad that your “experimenting with drugs” was for the benefit of mankind and not what one typically imagines when seeing that phrase today. I hadn’t made the connection until just now, but you, Mom, and me have all contributed to the medical data base in our own ways. Three cheers for the Frantzens!

    As for the pay, I’ve recently been watching episodes from the series “Mad Men” on Netflix, which is set in 1960. I’m getting a feel for what things cost back then as compared to now. It seems as though things today cost about 8-10 times what they cost in 1960 so $10 was quite nice for one day’s “work”!

  4. ingridmg2014 says:

    D’oh! Grammatical error! Should’ve said, “you, Mom, and I…”!

  5. ingridmg2014 says:

    …or “Mom, you, and I”!

    • R.J.F. says:

      WEll, chronologically, I was the first of us in this field. Mom’s and yours were more serious in nature. Any combination of the three works properly, I think.

  6. Louise says:

    Even though I have heard this story before, I still laughed to read your description of this unpleasant medical experiment. Not that it is funny imagining your pain, but the way you describe it is very humorous! Probably one of those things that becomes funnier the more time has passed ☺️. What’s that old saying? Comedy = Tragedy + Time.

    • R.J.F. says:

      Yeah, most of them were easy money and no sweat. Occasionally some were not so easy, but we all knew that was a possibility, after all these were early trials to find things out. all in all, well worth it.

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