Americans Go to Recession Extremes for Pay

Americans resort to extreme means to generate income this holiday season.

ByABC News
December 17, 2008, 5:55 PM

Dec. 18, 2008— -- Americans across the country are finding ways to adapt to the economic times, increasingly making money by putting their bodies at risk.

Maria Finkbeiner was hit hard by the economic crisis. After being laid off as an auto parts worker, she has spent the past year trying to get a new job, while eventually losing her home to foreclosure.

That's when Finkbeiner, a perfectly healthy mother of two from Edwardsburg, Mich., spotted an ad seeking volunteers who were willing to take experimental prescription drugs for pay, despite unknown long-term risks and short-term side effects that can include nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping.

"When I first read about it, I thought people must be crazy to do that," Finkbeiner said.

But Finkbeiner inquired, met the criteria for a clinical medical trial and signed up.

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"It's like you're being a guinea pig," she said. "You're taking medication they're testing on people -- medication that hasn't been approved yet."

In two weeks, she earned nearly $3,000. It would have taken her six weeks in her old job to make the same pay.

"During these challenging economic times, people are resorting to extraordinary and some might characterize it as extreme means, in order to generate income, like participating in clinical trials that can have serious consequences for your health down the road," said Jean Mitchell, healthcare economics expert and professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Research facilities in North Carolina and New Jersey report an uptick in the number of people wanting to take part in medical experiments for pay.

The director of Just Another Lab Rat, a Web site offering information about clinical trials, says he has seen 30 percent more inquiries in the past year alone.

Some fertility clinics are also reporting a significant rise in the number of women inquiring about becoming egg donors or surrogate mothers, like at Agency for Solutions in North Hollywod, Calif., run by Lauri Berger de Brito and Kathryn Kaycoff Manos.

"We've seen our surrogate applications rise from about 40 per month to well over 100 per month," Berger De Brito said.