A psychologist considered a leading expert on drug therapies for hyperactive children was sentenced Thursday to 60 days in prison in the nation’s first federal conviction for falsifying scientific data.
Dr. Stephen Breuning pleaded guilty in September to two counts of falsifying data on drug therapies, including the use of Ritalin and Dexedrine, in order to obtain more than $160,000 in federal research grants.
U.S. District Judge Frank Kaufman, who said the researcher’s “whole career has been destroyed,” also ordered Breuning to pay the University of Pittsburgh $11,352 restitution before placing him on five years’ probation.
“It is certainly a time in my life that I am ashamed of and embarrassed about,” Breuning told Kaufman. “I will never forget it.”
Breuning was indicted in April for making false statements to the National Institute of Mental Health and for obstructing the agency’s investigation into the authenticity of his data during his tenure at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School from 1982 to 1984.
A former colleague, Robert Sprague, who is a professor at the Institute for Research on Human Development at the University of Illinois, said Breuning was responsible for a third of the literature available on drug therapy for hyperactive children during the years of his research. Sprague first prompted an investigation into the data in 1983, saying he was suspicious of the results.
Four years later, an internal institute investigation determined that Breuning “knowingly, willfully and repeatedly engaged in misleading and deceptive practices in reporting results of research.”
The case was turned over to the Justice Department and Breuning was accused of falsifying data concerning the number of children involved in studies, among other things, in order to obtain $162,500 for a study, “Stimulant Drug Use with Mentally Retarded Children.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. E. Thomas Roberts said the case represents the first conviction under federal fraud statutes of a researcher for falsifying information to obtain federal grants.