Blood for Oil, Literally

"Plasma for gas" might not have the same ring to it as "blood for oil," but across the country companies that pay for blood say more people are donating as a way to supplement their incomes amid rising prices for fuel and other commodities.

Recognizing the trend, some labs are actively recruiting donors by enticing them with gas money for simply sitting for 10 minutes with a needle in their arm.

"Donate plasma for gas money," reads a banner outside Las Cruces Biological, a donation center on Main Street in Las Cruces, N.M.

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Once donated, plasma — the main component of blood that contains proteins, minerals and hormones — is used by pharmaceutical companies to create potentially life-saving drugs.

"There has definitely been an increase in the number of donors we are seeing," said Debbie Sharp, the Las Cruces center director. "We're seeing anywhere from 50 to 100 more donations per week since March."

Sharp said donors were not stereotypical drug addicts looking for some quick cash, but represented a broad cross-section of society.

"All walks of people come in to donate," she said. "We have teachers, students, people who work for the city. We're definitely seeing a change in who is walking through the door, but they're all saying the same thing. They all say they need a little extra cash to pay for gas."

Sharp said some 720 people donated last week. The center reported record donations in the last week of April, when nearly 1,000 people gave blood.

Christophe Washburne, 38, has been working at the center and donating blood for the past two years.

"I make about $50 a week donating," he said. "I do it just to cover my gas money."

It is not legal to sell your blood in every state, but centers in many of the states where it is legal are reporting an increase in recent weeks.

Rates vary from center to center, but donors are typically allowed to donate twice in seven days and are usually paid more for the second donation.

In Las Cruces, donors are paid $20 for their first visit and up to $35 dollars for their second. Overweight donors are paid an additional $5 there because the process can take longer for them, Sharp said.

At Biolife Plasma Services in Springfield, Mo., donors are paid $25 on their first visit and $40 on their second visit in the same week.

"Some people donate because they need money and other people do it for the intrinsic value of knowing that they are helping others," said Jeffrey Park, the center's director.

Park said there was "no hard data" on how much donations had increased in recent months, "but there has definitely been a steady increase."

"Anecdotally," he said, "donations are tied to the economy. When the economy is bad, more people seem to come in."

But he also attributed the recent increase to an overall trend in plasma donation over the past several years.

Biolife is owned by the pharmaceutical company Baxter, the world's largest manufacturer of plasma-based drugs for the treatment of hemophilia and other diseases.

Laura Grossmann, a Baxter spokeswoman, said the company did not track plasma donation trends.

The Red Cross, the world's largest clearinghouse for blood donations, does not pay for blood but has nevertheless gotten on the blood-for-gas bandwagon.

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