Refund given on grant used to buy cocaine

by Sean Madigan

The University announced Thursday it will reimburse the National Institutes of Health for $11,000 in grants it awarded a University researcher who used the money to purchase cocaine for his research.
The researcher, Dr. Keith Kajander, died April 28 in Abbott Northwestern Hospital from a self-induced cocaine overdose, according to a Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s report.
The incident will not affect the University’s already tumultuous relationship with the NIH, University Academic Health Center officials said.
Also on Thursday, University Police released Detective Charles Miner’s investigation into Kajander’s possible theft of controlled substances from his Moos Tower lab.
Since 1992 Kajander had led a team of researchers in the School of Dentistry working with wound research. His research involved the use of cocaine and morphine, as well as other controlled substances.
In his grant applications to the NIH, Kajander never mentioned he was using cocaine as part of his study, said Richard Bianco, the AHC’s vice president of regulatory affairs.
Kajander had a Drug Enforcement Agency license to purchase controlled substances for research purposes, but did not have authorization from the NIH to use grant funding to purchase cocaine.
Health center officials said they decided to repay the money because they were not sure exactly how much he used for experiments.
As part of basic University procedure, officials conducted a thorough audit of Kajander’s lab and research records. While Kajander kept complete receipt and storage records for the narcotics, officials said it was impossible to account for exactly how much cocaine had been used.
Although he was operating under three substantial grants from the NIH, Bianco said Kajander never mentioned the use of cocaine for his research in his grant proposals.
“You can’t just use federal money for research with a controlled substance without federal approval,” Bianco said. As a principal investigator, Kajander did not need a department head or supervisor to sign purchase orders.
Since purchases began in 1992, Kajander ordered 140 grams of cocaine in 28 shipments, each consisting of five grams. Police reports indicate he received his final shipment on April 22, the day before he was admitted to the hospital for a seizure resulting from cocaine overdose. He was hospitalized five days before passing away.
Although Kajander used cocaine for his research and died of a cocaine overdose, Bianco said there is no proof of a link.
“Everybody is making an assumption, but there’s no proof of that,” Bianco said. “But it is awfully coincidental. There is no way to determine whether the cocaine in Kajander’s bloodstream was from his laboratory or the street.”
Dr. Michael Till, the dean of the School of Dentistry said there is no indication of foul play.
“Anytime anyone has access to a controlled substance, one can make that conjecture,” Till said. He explained that just because a bank teller has access to money does not mean he or she is taking it.
Till reported a possible theft from Kajander’s Moos Tower lab the day before Kajander was admitted to the hospital, according to the police report. The police report named Kajander as the only suspect.
Both Till and Bianco agree that the incident will not affect the University’s already-strained relationship with the NIH.
“They understand this is an isolated incident,” Bianco said. “We’re trying to be responsible, but this stuff happens — and not just in Minnesota.”
The University’s decision to repay the NIH was collaborative. Bianco, along with Frank Cerra, the AHC’s senior vice president and Christine Maziar, dean of the Graduate School and vice president of research, made the decision.
According to the police report, very few people knew Kajander’s research involved cocaine. When he completed his purchase orders, Kajander would place a piece of paper marked “confidential” over the description so that others could not see what was being purchased.
The report says Kajander kept the purchases confidentially because he feared the substances could be stolen from his office. In the report, Violet Frisch, an executive secretary in the Office of Oral Biology, said she didn’t think anybody but herself and the Department’s Accounts Payable Division knew about Kajander’s purchasing of controlled substances, unless Kajander had mentioned to them specifically.
Frisch said she brought Kajander a package the morning before he was hospitalized and he later showed her that the package contained at least one vial of cocaine, according to the police report.