Drug policy group condemns psychedelic research association for response to B.C. sex assault claims
A national drug policy advocacy organization is condemning how a prominent psychedelic research body responded to a B.C. woman’s allegations of sexual and physical abuse during clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition released a statement Thursday expressing “unequivocal solidarity” with Meaghan Buisson, and calling on the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and its Vancouver-based affiliate MAPS Canada to take public responsibility for causing harm.
“While [Buisson’s] formal account of sexual assault ought to have resulted in swift, thorough, and decisive action, there are reports that it was instead ignored, minimized, suppressed, and used to coerce her into a position of extreme social and economic precarity,” the statement reads.
It calls on MAPS and MAPS Canada “to urgently communicate and enact remedies within research processes, collaborations, and wider affiliations to proactively safeguard against recurrence of such harms within medicalized practices and cultures of psychedelic use.”
The coalition represents more than 50 organizations across the country, including MAPS Canada.
In response to the statement, MAPS Canada executive director Scott Bernstein referred CBC to a blog post from earlier this year, which describes Buisson’s experience as “upsetting and deplorable.” The post also says MAPS Canada is developing policies to clarify its ethical standards.
CBC has also reached out to MAPS spokesperson Betty Aldworth for comment.
‘Signs of institutional protectionism’
Buisson was a participant in Phase II clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder conducted by MAPS in Vancouver in 2015. Her therapists for those Health Canada-approved sessions were a married couple, psychiatrist Dr. Donna Dryer and Richard Yensen, who is unlicensed.
Buisson came forward to MAPS in 2018 with allegations that Yensen had sexually assaulted her while she was enrolled in the trial. Yensen has admitted to having sex with her, but denies it was assault, claiming Buisson manipulated him.
MAPS agreed to pay Buisson $15,000 to cover therapy, but she had to sign away her right to sue the organization.
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition takes issue with that response.
“These are signs of institutional protectionism and an ongoing and sustained violation of consent,” the coalition’s statement says.
MAPS later issued a statement acknowledging that Yensen had an “inappropriate and unethical” sexual relationship with a study participant and cut ties with the couple.
However, MAPS has since acknowledged that no one reviewed videos of Buisson’s sessions after she filed her complaint. Those videos came from cameras placed in each treatment room, ostensibly to ensure patients were safe and therapists were following the treatment protocol.
Clips of those videos have now been released through New York magazine’s podcast Cover Story: Power Trip.
The videos show Dryer and Yensen cuddling, spooning, blindfolding and pinning down Buisson, who is in obvious distress.
MAPS told CBC that its staff did not view those tapes until November 2021, six years after they were filmed.
The organization has instituted a compliance review in response to the release of the videos, and says that it appears Dryer and Yensen “substantially deviated from the MDMA-assisted Therapy Treatment Manual on several occasions.”
But the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition statement argues that isn’t good enough.
“Releasing the video of her abuse in media outlets should not have been required to address breaches which suggested safety risks for all trial participants,” the statement says.
The coalition also alleges that a number of executives at MAPS, including Bernstein, the MAPS Canada executive director, “attempted to publicly discredit” Buisson’s story. Bernstein denied that allegation.
Apart from making the videos of Buisson’s sessions public, the researchers behind Cover Story: Power Trip also identified a number of concerns about patient safety, reports of increased suicidal thinking and allegations of flawed research during MAPS’ clinical trials involving MDMA.
A group of academics and journalists submitted complaints to Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March, and Health Canada has since confirmed that it’s reviewing all trials involving MDMA to ensure patient safety and compliance with regulations.