The military, government and Big Pharma similarly blame the current suicide epidemic among military personnel on factors others than the ubiquitous psychiatric drugs in use--even though 30 percent of the victims never deployed and 60 percent never saw combat. A recent five year study by Pharma-funded academic, government and military researchers about military suicides, for example, does not even consider the drugs given to an estimated sixth of all soldiers almost all of which carry warnings about suicide . Hello?
It is also worth noting that the alarming side effects linked to mefloquine that patients, doctors and public health officials reported for at least a decade, were not acknowledged until profits ran out and Lariam became a generic, as has happened with other risky drugs. When sentiment turned against Lariam in 2008, its manufacturer, Hoffmann--La Roche ceased marketing it in the US and now the words "Lariam" and "malaria" draw no search results on its U.S. website! Who, us?
One group that has tried to raise awareness of the dangers of Lariam is Mefloquine (Lariam) Action, created in 1996 when founder, Susan Rose, noted Peace Corps workers given Lariam were falling ill, medevaced to the states, hospitalized and terminated from service. Rose soon enlarged the scope of Mefloquine (Lariam) Action to include travelers and military personnel.
"This black box [the strongest FDA warning on drug packaging] officially establishes that mefloquine can cause permanent, brain damage and more. It validates what we have been saying since the beginning," Jeanne Lese, Director of Mefloquine (Lariam) Action told me. The problem is far from solved by the black box, says Lese. "The drug continues to be given out at travel clinics all over the U.S. and elsewhere every single day. What's more, it is often prescribed with no hint to the patient about the black box, and no screening for contraindications such as history of previous depression or other neuropsych problems."
Mefloquine's Checkered Past
The four Fort Bragg soldiers charged with killing their wives during the summer of 2002 is not the only time Lariam/mefloquine has been in the news. There was also the case of Staff Sergeant Andrew Pogany who volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2003 and experienced such panic and PTSD symptoms in the war theater, he was sent back to Fort Carson and charged with "cowardly conduct as a result of fear." Pogany and his attorney were able to prove that his reaction probably stemmed from Lariam and he received an honorable discharge. But Pogany, understandably, became a vehement advocate for the rights of soldiers with PTSD, especially those who have been given psychoactive drugs which often make symptoms worse not better.
The wife of a 17-year marine veteran I interviewed in 2011 reported a similar story. After being deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, her husband developed extreme PTSD. "He went from being loving on the phone, to saying he never wanted to see me and our daughter again," the wife said. "He said not to even bother coming to the airport to meet him, because he would walk right past us." When the couple did reunite, the husband was frail and thin, and "the whites of his eyes were brown," says the wife. The formerly competent drill instructor became increasingly and inexplicably unpredictable, suicidal, and violent and was incarcerated in the brig at Camp Lejeune for assault in 2011. I asked the wife to ask him during her visits if he had been given Lariam/mefloquine and she said he said yes.
In the nonﬁction book, Murder in Baker Company: How Four American Soldiers Killed One of Their Own, Lariam is also raised as a possible factor in the brutal death of Army Specialist Richard Davis. When asked about Lariam in the crime in an interview, the author Cilla McCain said, "Although it was never mentioned in court, I think if this same case were to happen today, it would definitely be considered as a defense. These soldiers were overdosing on Lariam in massive amounts because there wasn't proper oversight. In reality, proper oversight is impossible in a war zone but steps could have been taken to make sure that overdosing didn't occur. Even without over dosage the Lariam issue is a volatile one at best and I'm positive we will be hearing more about the damage it has caused for years to come. Some scientists are linking Lariam directly to the historical rise of suicides in the United States."
As a cloud grows over mefloquine, there is both good and bad news. The good news is in 2013, the Surgeon General's Office of the Army Special Operations Command told commanders and medical workers that soldiers who have been thought to be suffering from PTSD or other psychological problems or even faking mental impairment may actually be mefloquine victims. The bad news is a new malaria drug developed at Reed during the same time period as mefloquine called tafenoquine is now fast tracking toward FDA approval. Jeanne Lese and Dr. Remington Nevin worry that the new drug has not been adequately tested for the same types of neurotoxic effects seen with mefloquine and that it will become mefloquine 2.0.
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