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Judge dismisses lawsuit over schizophrenia patients

June 5, 1997

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ A judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing UCLA of mishandling the treatment of two men who took part in a study in which their schizophrenia medication was withheld.

One of the schizophrenics committed suicide in 1991. The other tried to go to Washington to kill the president.

Superior Court Judge David D. Perez ruled that the men’s families had stalled too long and exceeded the five-year statute of limitations for getting their case to trial. Most recently, the families fired their attorneys during jury selection March 7, forcing Perez to declare a mistrial.

The families of Greg Aller and Tony Lamadrid sued the University of California at Los Angeles in 1992, saying the research put scientific objectives ahead of proper treatment. The families were seeking unspecified damages.

Schizophrenia sufferers hear voices, feel persecuted and lose touch with reality. Patients often stop taking their medication because of bad side effects, so UCLA researchers sought a controlled setting to study withdrawal from a standard drug called Prolixin.

Robert and Gloria Aller enrolled their son, now 33, in the study in 1988. He did well until 1989, when he entered the drug withdrawal phase. They contend he was experiencing delusions that should have disqualified him from staying in the study.

In May 1990, Aller threatened his mother with a butcher knife and began hitchhiking to Washington to assassinate President Bush on imagined orders from aliens. He called home when he ran out of money.

The Lamadrid family said Tony should have been excluded from the study because of past drug abuse. He was 23 when he jumped to his death from a UCLA building a month after his family said he was kicked out of the study.

The lawsuits alleged fraud, deceit, lack of informed consent and violation of civil rights.

UCLA said the tests followed accepted clinical standards and the subjects were properly treated.

UCLA attorney Marshall Silberberg said the university wanted a trial to defend the lead researchers, psychologist Keith Neuchterlein and psychiatrist Dr. Michael Gitlin.

After the families’ complaints, a federal agency criticized UCLA and found the study lacked proper procedures for getting informed consent from the patients.

The federal Office for Protection from Research Risks, part of the National Institutes of Health, forced UCLA to improve internal oversight, undergo closer federal scrutiny and overhaul consent forms.

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