Soldiers at risk from anti-malarial drug, claims ex-senior medical officer

27.09.2013 21:18

British soldiers are being put at risk
of developing psychosis by taking an
anti-malarial drug that has been
banned by the US military, it is
claimed. Mefloquine, also known as
Lariam, has been linked to a number
of suicides and murders among
troops, with the US Food and Drug
Administration advising against those
with a history of depression from
taking it.
A spokesman for the Ministry of
Defence said it continued to prescribe
mefloquine on the advice of Public
Health England. He said the MoD
participated in the Medicines
Healthcare Regulation Agency's
"Yellow Card scheme", where all
adverse reactions to any medication
are reported directly to the MHRA,
which is responsible for investigating
any claims.
But a former senior medical officer
accused the MoD of ignoring repeated
warnings over the dangers of the
Lieutenant Colonel Ashley Croft told
the Independent: "For the past 12
years I was saying this is potentially
a dangerous drug. Most people can
take it without problems, but a few
people will experience difficulties,
and of those a small number will
become psychotic and because there
are other alternatives that are safer
and just as effective, we should move
to them. But my words fell on deaf
A spokeswoman for the Public Health
England advisory committee on
malaria prevention said it was not
aware of any new information that
should change its view of the drug as
an effective anti-malarial.
She said: "Falciparum malaria is a
common, preventable and life-
threatening infection. The ACMP
regularly reviews data on safety and
efficacy of all anti-malarials.
Mefloquine is an extremely effective
antimalarial and we are not aware
of any new data that alter our view
of the safety of mefloquine.
"In line with other international
authorities, we will continue to
recommend the use of mefloquine as
an anti-malarial for travellers
following an individual risk
The MoD spokesman said: "All our
medical advice is based on the
current guidelines set out by Public
Health England. "Based on their
expert advice, the MoD continues to
prescribe mefloquine as part of the
range of malaria prevention
treatments recommended. It is just
one of the prevention treatments
available and is only prescribed
under certain circumstances to
ensure the treatment provided is the
most effective."
The FDA released an update
"regarding neurologic and psychiatric
side effects" of the drug in July and
gave its label a boxed warning - the
most serious kind - about these
potential problems.
The neurologic side effects can
include dizziness, loss of balance, or
ringing in the ears while it said the
psychiatric side effects included
feeling anxious, mistrustful,
depressed, or having hallucinations.
Neurologic side effects can occur at
any time during its use and can last
from months to years after the drug
is stopped, or can even be
permanent, the FDA warned.
If a patient develops neurologic or
psychiatric symptoms, mefloquine
should be stopped and an alternate
medicine should be used, it said.
The US military banned its troops
from taking Lariam following this
advice and after it was linked to the
case of one of its soldiers who
massacred 16 Afghan civilians.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales avoided
the death penalty by pleading guilty
in June to one of the worst atrocities
of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.