Contrary to previous reports, there’s no sanctuary for VCU monkeys

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Monkeys used in research at Virginia Commonwealth University don’t retire after all. 8News has uncovered new information about the research projects at VCU involving monkeys addicted to drugs. 

8News first exposed the taxpayer-funded research at VCU in April. At the time, 8News was told the monkeys eventually retire in a sanctuary.

“They go to I guess you call it, a monkey farm.  They’re places in Louisiana. I am not sure what state they are in,” said Dr. Bill Dewey with the  VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology Department during our interview in April. 

The research happening on campus involves rhesus monkeys strapped in restraint chairs. They are then injected with cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and even the highly potent fentanyl.

Researchers tell us the experiments are critical in the fight to end the opioid epidemic.

“We have people in that hospital every day,” said Dr. Dewey. “We gotta get people out of the hospital. It’s why we do research. There is nothing here to be hidden.”

After our initial 8News report, the comment about a sanctuary or monkey farm confused Will Lowrey, a VCU graduate, animal advocate and attorney. 

Monkeys used in research at Virginia Commonwealth University don't retire after all.

“I found the sort of the claim a little bit unusual and started doing some digging into that,” says Lowrey.

Wondering what sanctuary the monkeys end up in, Lowrey filed a Freedom Of Information Act request with VCU looking for more information into the research.   

“This is the FOIA, I sent to VCU,” he said holding up the document.

Lowrey requested all documents pertaining to the transfer of any primates involved in the research.

“Anything that might indicate these animals had left research and gone on to a better life,” he explained.
But what he got in response, a letter stating “the records do not exist.”

Puzzled, Lowrey went a step further obtaining and reviewing the grant application filed with the National Institutes Of Health for federal funding for the experiments.

Lowrey shared the documents with 8News. In the report detailing the research testing procedures and protocols, there is no mention of a sanctuary for the monkeys.  The documents show that when VCU is done with the monkeys, they’re “transferred” or passed on to other researchers or investigators. 

“In that, they mention that they use these animals for 5 to 10 years and they mention that they recycle them basically for other research,” says Lowrey.

8News reached out to NAPSA, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, a coalition of nine leading primate sanctuaries on the continent. 8News asked if NAPSA had ever been contacted by VCU.

“Well, I can tell you there is no evidence of any of the nine NAPSA sanctuaries ever being contacted VCU at all,” said Erika Fleury NAPSA’s program director.  She dug even deeper.

“Additionally I have checked with all of the other accredited primate sanctuaries in the country and they have not been contacted by VCU,” she said. 

“That raises a very large question of are they really sending them to sanctuary?” Fleury wondered. “Is this a true statement? Or is VCU simply putting forth information that they think the public would want to hear.”

So, 8News went back to VCU pressing for answers.

VCU declined our requests for an interview and in an about-face, the university now admits those drug addicted monkeys do not retire in sanctuary after-all. 

8News was told in a statement:

“While sanctuaries are an option, VCU has not transferred any non-human primates to a sanctuary. However, over the past decade, a number of non-human primates have been sent to other research facilities for long-term, non-invasive behavioral studies.”

“It raises the question of, what else are they not telling us?  I just ask for transparency,” said Lowrey.

Meanwhile, Fleury is extending an offer, she says NAPSA welcomes a chance to work with VCU in the future.

She told 8News that in the sanctuary the monkeys have access to nutritious food, proper veterinary care and get to socialize without being confined to a cage.  She also says sanctuary care is cheaper than laboratory care.

“It can be up to $13 a day cheaper. So there is really a financial incentive for the school to support their care in a sanctuary than a lab where they are no longer needed.”

Stay tuned to 8News for updates. 

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