'He told me of his Lariam dreams – then killed himself': The human cost of the UK’s suicide drug scandal

Revelations in ‘The Independent’ that the Ministry of Defence continues to prescribe a controversial anti-malarial drug – which has been the subject of warnings over its effect on mental health – have provoked outrage

Jonathan Owen
Tuesday 08 October 2013 00:09 BST

Following an Independent investigation, some of those affected by Lariam tell how the drug turned their lives upside down.

The soldier: Drug has left me tormented by nightmares for 10 years

Lt Col (Retd) Andrew Marriott, 58, from Northallerton, Yorkshire. ‘Nightmare disorder’ means he hasn’t been able to sleep properly for more than a decade.

I took Lariam for almost a year for a deployment in Sierra Leone 10 years ago. I suffered from a range of side-effects including dizziness, vivid and unpleasant dreams, memory loss/confusion and problems with anger management. For me, the most profound and persistent issue has been ‘Nightmare Disorder’. I have not had an undisturbed night’s sleep since December 2002. The MoD has accepted this condition was caused by Lariam. I do not look forward to sleep. The dreams are vivid and I will typically experience five per night, waking after each. I probably manage about one hour of continuous sleep. Some dreams involve profound threat to survival while others can present exceptionally serous challenges to my self-esteem. There are some that are particularly unpleasant and I haven’t divulged the nature of those to anyone.

On waking, I am quickly alert and aware that these are Lariam-induced dreams. Any terror quickly subsides but sense of self-worth is a bit trickier to re-establish. Between 0500 and 0630 is usually a fitful time trying to expunge any residual feelings of guilt or worry from the dreams.

Lariam is not a drug which is understood by many of the medical practititioners within the armed forces. The response from the surgeon general’s department in the MoD in general to complaints has been bordering on the negligent. They had a very casual approach to the administration of the drug and a very poor response in dealing with the side effects.

I served my country for 30 years and I don’t like seeing my soldiers and the next generation being subjected to this sort of risk, which is quite unnecessary.”

The British army needs to act and stop giving soldiers Lariam, before another army wife and their family suffer the catastrophic consequences we have.”

The widow: He told me of his Lariam dreams – then killed himself

Jane Casperson-Quinn, 43, from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia. Jane’s husband killed himself in a room upstairs while she was downstairs with their two young daughters.

We had been childhood sweethearts since the age of 16. He was only 35 when his life was cut short by what I believe to be the consequences of taking Lariam during his military service.

It began in January 2001, when, as a Captain in the Highlanders, he went to Kenya with his regiment. He was prescribed Lariam and experienced unpleasant, vivid and disturbing dreams, but as others had worse side-effects he thought he had got off pretty lightly. He continued to take the drug after his return, as instructed, but the vivid nightmares continued and he became increasingly depressed, finally telling me one evening that he had thought about suicide.

I was desperately worried and begged him to stop taking the drug immediately and tell his Army Medical Officer. His mood lifted once he stopped the drug but he was never quite the same again. I so wish I had managed to make him disclose his symptoms as now I realise that was the beginning of the end. After taking Lariam my husband was a changed man forever. He went from someone who had never had any mental health problems to a man who started to suffer bouts of suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and volatile behaviour. The “Lariam” dreams, as he called them, continued nightly at first then gradually subsided to weekly episodes about a year after his return until his death.

He would never tell me the content of the dreams, only saying that they were violent and disturbing and commonly involved those he knew and loved. I tried to get him to go to the Army doctors and, after he retired from the Army in 2003, the civilian doctors for help. But, as with so many, he was worried about the stigma of having mental health problems, and fearing for his career prospects, he refused to tell anyone.

On the morning of my husband’s death, he told me he had “Lariam dreams” during the night. There was nothing to suggest his state of mind that day was any different to the countless other times he had suffered from them before so we carried on with our day as normal and I hoped for a better night that night.

Sadly this was not to be. On 11 March 2006 my much-loved husband and devoted father of our children took his own life. This happened in our home, while me and my two daughters, then aged eight and five, were in the room below and I was washing up our dinner dishes. I tried to revive him but I was too late. He gave no warning and left no note. I now know that he is not the only person who has taken their life after taking this drug. I wish I had known this before.

I am convinced that the side-effects of Lariam killed my husband. Since his death I have become aware of many other soldiers who have suffered dreadful psychological problems after taking this drug. I find it hard to understand why a drug known to cause permanent brain damage and serious psychological problems is still being given to soldiers, or anyone.

My husband may not have been “killed in action” but his life was cut short as violently as if he had. He was deeply committed in his service to his country, to his family and to his children. Lariam robbed us of his future. The British Army needs to stop giving soldiers Lariam, before another wife and their family suffer the catastrophic consequences we have.”

The wife: It was as if someone else had occupied his body

Bea Coldwell, 52, from Richmond, Yorkshire, blames Lariam for turning her husband into a different man – their marriage ended after he had an affair.

My husband, a lieutenant-colonel, deployed to Sierra Leone in August 2007. Two weeks beforehand, he had begun a course of Lariam. He said the doctor had warned it might make him go mad but hadn’t offered an alternative. We laughed it off at the time.

In early October something in his voice had changed and I recall saying to my mother that I thought he was having an affair. I put this to the back of my mind, as my husband was then a very upright, moralistic Roman Catholic, very proud of his position as an army officer.

We continued to talk as normally as possible over the course of the next couple of months, although I felt a growing distance between us. He came home in December and when I met him from the train, the alarm bells really began to ring.

Although he looked the same, it was as if another person was occupying his body. He had an air of suppressed rage about him.

On his return to Sierra Leone he texted me from the airport to say that the marriage was over. This was when I remembered what the doctor had said about Lariam. Eventually I found evidence which proved he had been having an affair with an African ‘nightclub worker’ and we divorced in 2008.

The last six years have been isolating and painful. Few are prepared to accept that a drug which has been approved for general use can do so much harm, but I can think of no other cause of my husband’s total deracination from loving husband, father and proud soldier, to the amoral person he is now.”

It’s now 12 years on since taking this evil drug and each day is still a battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts

P is 35-year-old and ex-Royal Navy.

Whilst serving in the Royal Navy I was deployed to Sierra Leone in 2001 for six weeks, en route back home to the UK after a six month deployment to the Gulf.

Before we arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone, we were give the anti-malaria drug Lariam. We were never told of the side effects to this drug only to take it. If we did not take the medication and contracted malaria we were told that we would be punished as it classed as disobeying an order.

After the six weeks in Sierra Leone, the entire ships company had to go and see the medical officer to answer a series of question on how we felt after taking Lariam. At this point I didn't really understand why as I personally felt ok.

A month after returning from the deployment I was home on summer leave enjoying time seeing my family and friends. My first bad experience happened when I was on the Tube, I suffered a major panic attack. It came from nowhere, the next few weeks this happened more and more often with a major increase in anxiety.

I returned to Navy of summer leave still suffering but was too afraid to seek medical advice as I thought it would destroy my career. I personally thought I was going mad, my relationship broke down with my girlfriend. I was afraid to go outside, do all the normal things I had done prior to taking this medication. I attempted suicide three times whilst in the Navy, only one they know about but I don't think it was recorded in my medical records.

I was put on gate duty with a gun, which I refused to do for fear to myself and to others. I was then put on an anti-anxiety course, but even at this point there was never a mention of my mental break down being caused by Lariam. To most people is seemed normal on the outside but what was happening in my head was a different story. I turned to self medication (drink) to try and shut out the thoughts going on in my head.

I left the Navy in 2003 because I knew I would never be able to go on board a ship again due to my state, I know have fear of being outside, flying, bridges, tunnels and high places.

I sought medical advice after I left the Navy after having another breakdown, I was prescribed anti depressants and they helped for a while but then had another episode of what I can only call psychotic behaviour, I felt suicidal and homicidal so spent a lot of time hidden away in my room once again for fear to myself and to other people.

I try my to lead a normal life and keep down a job which I think I do very well considering what goes on in my head. I’ve tried everything from CBT to Hypnosis but they never worked.#

I know I’m one of the lucky ones as I know from my research that some people after taking Lariam have had their lives destroyed.

It’s now 12 years on since taking this evil drug and each day is still a battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I wish the MOD would wake up and stop handing this drug out like sweets without warning or service men and women of the side effects this drug can have on their lives. 
This is my little story of Lariam, I wish I had never take it. 

I am still battling for a compensation package as the MoD strongly deny Lariam was to blame for my OCD

“It was 2009 and I was being deployed to a Sub Sahara country, every member of my team was told they were to take the drug Lariam for the prevention of Malaria, having received a very basic brief on the drug I queried as to an alternative and was told quite categorically no.

So on the Medic's recommendation I proceeded to take my Lariam once a week for 3 weeks I arrived in Africa and was given leave to go and explore the area, that evening all of my team were drinking in the local watering holes and enjoying the African culture. In the morning I awoke with a thought that I had in the course of the evening had sexual intercourse with a prostitute or had been stabbed with a needle resulting in me contracting HIV. This thought would not pass and became a obsession as I could not sleep, eat, drink or do my role as a armed forces person should.

I was visiting the team doctor five or six times a day, crying and saying that I suicidal thoughts and I had ruined my life, and my wife's and that of my unborn child that was due in four weeks time. The doctor concluded I had a reaction to the drug Lariam.

After two weeks of not being able to use a weapon or being able to carry out my role my unit decided to send me back to the UK. A base GP concluded I was to be placed in a NHS Mental Health unit, I was in this unit without any contact from the armed forces and on the fifth day I was diagnosed by the psychiatrist as having OCD – the precipitating factor being Lariam.

I was then granted leave to return home for the impending birth of my child, something I was very much looking forward to prior to Lariam now it was something I did not even think about as I had found this obsession of contracting HIV.

The thought did not leave my mind for any time of day it was constantly there, I would look up things about HIV on the internet for six hours a day. I would believe there were lesions appearing on my body. My wife reassured me but to no avail I was griped with this obsessive thought and with the thought that maybe suicide was my only option at certain points.

My child was born and I could not even hold him as I thought in someway he could catch HIV from me. Whilst having the thought of HIV i believed that once the obsession with HIV had passed I would be better again  But I was wrong as a new thought always surfaces and always will. I was even tested for HIV on three separate occasions but I would not believe the results.

I began having cognitive behavioural therapy with a psychiatrist and it was teaching me how to cope with my anxiety of the OCD, I also have to take OCD medication for the rest of my life to cope with the daily struggle of my thoughts.

I was eventually discharged from the forces in 2010 with OCD, and I am still battling for a compensation package as the MoD strongly deny Lariam was to blame at all.

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