Few remember the grisly summer of 2002 when four Fort Bragg soldiers' wives were murdered within six weeks of each other and the malaria drug, Lariam, widely prescribed to troops deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, was suspected as a factor in at least some of the killings .
The label on the malaria drug, developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the 1970s after another malaria drug used in Vietnam failed, warns of psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, aggression, tremors, confusion, abnormal dreams and suicide. The drug still prescribed to US troops and international travelers en route to countries with malaria.
Military officials blamed the Fort Bragg murders on marital problems and combat stress--explanations that were heard when Army staff sergeant Robert Bales, allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians in one of the most violent attacks against civilians documented in the war, last March.
But soon after the Fort Bragg killings other soldiers given Lariam spoke out. Kevin, a 27-year old Air Force Staff Sgt. named Kevin based in Little Rock who only gave his first name, told United Press International he too experienced delusions, hallucinations, black outs and frightening flashes of anger after taking just five doses of Lariam.
"These guys who killed their wives and then themselves (near Fort Bragg). If they were having a reaction to Lariam I can totally understand why they did it. The patience level goes way down. You feel confused, and the anger and frustration level goes way up," Kevin said. "The only reason I have not done anything to myself yet is because I think it is a one-way ticket to hell."
Even lawmakers doubted Lariam's safety. "Our military said there is no problem with (Lariam) because they developed it," remarked Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich when an Army report about the Fort Bragg killings discounted Lariam as a factor. "The hardest thing to do is develop a drug and then admit there is a problem."
One side effect of Lariam can be abrupt personality changes. A seventeen-year marine veteran serving in Afghanistan in 2009 and given Lariam, "went from being loving on the phone, to saying he never wanted to see me and our daughter again," said his wife in an interview. "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, her husband was frail and thin, and "the whites of his eyes were brown," says the wife. The formerly competent drill instructor became increasingly unpredictable, suicidal, and violent and was incarcerated in the brig at Camp Lejeune for assault in 2011.