Gulf forces got `high' on nerve drug

The controversial sickness syndrome sufferered by veterans may stem from misuse of an untested antidote, reports Patrick Cockburn

IN A NEW twist to the mystery of why so many British and US troops fell ill after the Gulf war, evidence is emerging that some Americans overdosed on a powerful, untested drug used as an antidote to chemical weapons because it made them high.

The drug is pyridostygmine bromide, known as PB, which the Pentagon distributed to 600,000 US soldiers in 1991 to counteract the nerve agents tabun and soman if they were used by Iraq. PB has long been suspected as a possible cause of the illnesses affecting veterans, which have become known as Gulf war syndrome.

The Pentagon said last week that it would not use PB in future unless it had intelligence reports that nerve agents were being used against US troops. But Jackson Eaton, writing about Gulf war syndrome at Princeton University, has found evidence that some US troops had taken far more than the prescribed number of three PB pills a day. He quotes Major Franklin Moreno, who commanded a Ranger company in the war, as saying: "It turned out that the pill gave you a head rush when you took it the first few times. And soldiers started to overdose on PB. We had one soldier who took 21 PB tablets in a day."

Major Moreno said that when he took the drug, "everything went wavy". After a week he told his men to stop taking the tablets. "It was crazy," he said. "Here we were in a go-to-war situation, and we had soldiers who were getting high off this drug." A fortnight later General Barry McCaffrey, commanding the 24th Mechanised Division, ordered his men to cease taking the pills.

British troops were also allowed to take large quantities of the tablets - which they knew as Naps (Nerve Agent Pre-treatment Sets) - without supervision. Tony Flint, a spokesman for the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said: "There was no control over it. They just gave you a bunch of tablets and said `Take three a day'. When the Scuds were coming in, the guys were shoving whole handfuls into their mouths."

Ironically, while PB was issued to protect against soman and tabun, US intelligence in the Gulf war was that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, had stockpiles of the nerve agent sarin. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, last week said the Pentagon "has finally acknowledged that our troops were given a drug to protect against a nerve agent they knew the enemy did not have".

The use of PB was controversial even in 1991, because it had not been fully tested by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Pentagon had to get a waiver to use it. Because so many of those suffering from the symptoms of Gulf war syndrome - chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, depression, joint and muscular pain, rashes, memory loss and insomnia - were far from the battlefront, it has always seemed possible that one of the antidotes used against chemical weapons might be responsible. It was not known before, however, that many US troops were taking far more PB tablets than prescribed.

Gulf war syndrome has taken bizarre forms. Steve Buyer, who served with US forces in the Gulf and is now a Republican Congressman from Indiana, says he has become allergic to anything green, such as trees or grass, since the conflict. Other Gulf veterans hitherto in perfect health have fallen seriously and mysteriously ill. A college football player and wrestler has died from multiple cancers. A helicopter pilot is undergoing chemotherapy, and his daughter was born with deformed feet.

The Pentagon was also criticised for failing to tell US troops that they were taking PB at the time because it did not want to tip off Iraq about its precautions against nerve gas attack. Although dubious about the prevalence - or even the existence - of Gulf war syndrome, the Pentagon is in a poor position to defend itself because of its prolonged denials - now abandoned - that the use of the Agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam damaged the health of US soldiers.

t Additional reporting by Ian Burrell

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone