Anti-Malaria Drug Mefloquine Could be Responsible for Mental Health Issues in Soldiers
Fresh fears have come to light about UK armed forces authorities meeting their duty of care towards servicemen and women after it emerged that the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine (also known as Lariam), routinely given in high-risk combat zones, could be adversely affecting soldiers’ mental health. Administered as a once-a-week-tablet to both military and civilian personnel, the drug has been linked to both short and long term mental health problems in some users, potentially paving the way for those affected by the drug to make a claim for armed forces compensation.
Call for UK Government to Stop Prescribing Mefloquine
Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, himself a former Army officer and a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, has called for the government to suspend prescription of the drug amidst a stream of letters from former veterans testifying to the devastating effects Mefloquine has had on their professional and personal lives. When reached for comment on these developments by the BBC, he issued the following statement:
“I’ve had a letter about once or twice a week from not only constituents but people all over the UK who have suffered or know someone who has suffered, they believe, as a result of taking Lariam.
I just think we need to halt putting this drug out there for our guys and girls to use it until a proper study has been done, so that we know and more importantly our soldiers and their families know that this is a good defence against malaria and they can feel comfortable taking it.”
The Cost of Caring for Veterans Could Spiral
As discussed in a previous article about the cost of caring for seriously injured veterans, providing armed forces veterans with the quality care and support they need is increasing all the time, and if Mefloquine is indeed found to be the cause of mental health issues among armed forces personnel who have been prescribed the anti-malaria drug, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme could be faced with situations similar to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mefloquine Side Effects
The side effects of Mefloquine/Lariam are thought to include the likes of severe clinical depression, and also the inability to reason objectively or effectively. Dr. Ashley Croft, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps for 27 years, has also indicated that it would be “more than reasonable” for the government to prescribe an alternative treatment to the drug until it was confirmed as being safe. His own highly detailed research on the subject indicates that around a third of people using it are prone to “significant side effects”, leading him to conclude as follows:
“If anybody was to ask me now should they take Lariam I would say definitely not – under no circumstances should you take Lariam to prevent malaria given that there are safer options available that will not cause you to run the risk.”
Other high-ranking British Army officers have also reached out anonymously to the BBC testifying to the dangers of Mefloquine, with one such source indicating short term side effects like sleep deprivation and reasoning impairment, and longer term problems like clinical depression permanently affecting his standard of living.
Potential Issues with Mefloquine Known for Years
Perhaps most alarmingly, concerns surrounding this potent drug are not new; more than two years ago the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the strongest possible “black box safety warning” against the drug. Subsequently it was banned from being given to US Special Forces as far back as 2013, but UK doctors have argued these concerns arose more out of public fear and lawsuits taking place in the US than out of solid scientific evidence.
Is the UK Government Putting Cost-Cutting Measures Ahead of Soldiers’ Safety?
Cynics are now pointing to the fact that the UK MoD is thought to have a stockpile of around 11,500 packs of Mefloquine, and that sourcing a less harmful alternative (of which many are thought to exist) may now prove cost-prohibitive. Under these circumstances, the UK government might be said by some commentators to be putting cost cutting measures ahead of the safety of military service personnel.
Commenting on this news, Jason Brady, Military injury compensation solicitor at Blackwater Law, said:
“Of course, most medical prescriptions come with warnings of potential side-effects. What is of concern in this case is that the potential side-effects of Mefloquine seem not to be fully understood or recognised by the Ministry of Defence and its advisors. Further the move by the US armed forces to cease using it gives weight to the arguments that alternative drugs (with less serious side-effects) would reduce the potential health risks facing armed forces personnel.
“I would encourage any currently serving, or ex-military personnel who have taken the drug and believes they have suffered any of the side-effects mentioned to contact a specialist military injury compensation claim solicitor.”
If you or a family member have suffered side-effects after taking Mefloquine, or any other medicine, prescribed in the armed forces, call Blackwater Law personal military injury solicitors for free initial advice on making a military injury compensation claim. We can also assist with compensation claims relating to defective equipment and amputations.
Call 0800 083 5500 today to speak to a specialist military injury solicitor who will give you expert and free initial advice on whether you, or your family member, may be eligible to make a military injury compensation claim.
Blackwater Law specialise in armed forces compensation claims and act for current and ex-military personnel across the UK.