Members of the British armed services have for decades been
administered a drug believed to have potentially substantial ill-effects on the
mental wellbeing of those who taken. Yet the Ministry of Defence continues to
stand by Lariam as its standard anti-malaria medication.
Mefloquine, the active ingredient in Lariam, has been tied
to a string of murders and suicides, many of which were in people who had not
displayed serious antisocial tendencies before taking the medication.
The most infamous case is that of US Army soldier Staff Sergeant
Robert Bales, who murdered sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children in
a 2012 massacre in Kandahar. Bales had passed am extensive mental health
screening program prior to being deployed to Afghanistan and, in the aftermath,
said “There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things
I did” according to Wired Magazine.
Read: Malaria doesn't have to be deadly
Bales had been taking Lariam as an anti-malaria precaution
and in the wake of the disaster the Federal Drug Administration added the
strongest warning’s it could to the packaging of Lariam, warning of
psychological side effects that can continue for years after stopping taking
the drug. In 2013 the US decided to ban the use of Lariam by special forces
However, the UK military, the world’s 5th best
funded according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, continues to prescribe it to troops
being deployed to zones where there is a risk of Malaria, raising the chance of
another avoidable catastrophe like the Kandahar massacre.
In a 2013 report by the Independent, UK military doctors
came forward to highlight the toxicity of the drug and the potentially
catastrophic repercussions these side effects can have in a pressurised environment
like the battlefield.
Read: Malaria deaths in South Africa on the rise
This is all despite the fact that newer, safer drugs like malarone
are available and would make excellent replacements for Lariam.
The Independent’s report goes on to list a number of other
murders committed by military troops taking Lariam, including the case of four
soldiers from the same camp who, having recently returned from Afghanistan and
taking Lariam, killed their wives. Two of the soldiers killed themselves.
Soldier’s committing suicide is becoming an increasingly
severe problem for defence departments. In 2012, more current and former
soldiers killed themselves than were killed in Afghanistan, with the majority
being veterans, claim the BBC.
Lariam is also still prescribed to civilians travelling to
malaria zones, though it has become markedly less popular in recent years. A
review in the journal Chemotherapy concluded that 25% of those who took the
drug suffered some degree of neurological impairment, from headaches to nightmares.
Substandard drugs hamper fight against malaria
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What are the signs and symptoms of malaria"Lariam" by Bongoman - Own work.