Anti-malaria drug endangers UK troops

Fri, 27 Sep 2013 18:43:15 GMT

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s refusal to ban a controversial anti-malarial drug is endangering thousands of UK troops because it has some killer side-effects such as psychosis and suicide, media reports said.

The drug, Mefloquine – better known as Lariam, has been banned by the U.S. military because of its effects on mental health and the dangers it poses to troops because of its high level of toxicity, The Independent reported.

After the drug known as a modern-day “Agent Orange” by doctors was linked to a series of suicides and murders – the most typical of which was the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. trooper – the U.S. military announced a total ban on its use this month.

However, Lariam is being given to British troops and repeated warnings over its dangers have fallen on deaf ears as revealed by a former senior medical officer.

“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 ears”, said Lt-Col Ashley Croft, who served for more than 25 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and is an expert on malaria.

Lt Col Ashcroft, who retired in April, accused the MoD of being in “denial mode”.

“The problem is that it can make people have psychotic thoughts and therefore act in an irrational manner and potentially a manner that is dangerous to themselves or their colleagues, or civilians”, he added.

According to the retired officer there are other drugs such as Doxycycline and malarone, which are both safer and effective in preventing malaria.

“Really the only people that get it [Lariam] now are the poor old soldiers and they have no choice”, he noted. Lt Col Croft estimates around 2,500 soldiers a year are given the drug.

The U.S. Army produced Lariam in the 1970s, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 1989. It was then recognized as a popular drug for preventing and treating malaria, but newer anti-malarial drugs, such as malarone have been developed in recent years with less side-effects.

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