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Lariam: Select committee to consider inquiry over MoD's use of anti-malarial drug

Exclusive: Alternatives which do not have same side effects are more expensive

Jonathan Owen
Friday 21 August 2015 19:03 BST
Lariam can have psychiatric side-effects
Lariam can have psychiatric side-effects

Growing fears over the mental health of soldiers taking Lariam have prompted the commons defence select committee to consider an inquiry into the Ministry of Defence’s continued use of the anti-malarial drug.

Lariam, also known as mefloquine, has psychiatric side-effects ranging from psychosis to hallucinations. Yet the MoD continues to give the drug to service personnel – almost a thousand of whom have subsequently required psychiatric treatment in the past few years.

Alternatives which do not have the same side effects, such as Doxycycline and Malarone, are more expensive; and the MoD has more than 11,000 packs of Lariam in stock. The use of the drug is in line with current malaria prevention guidelines from Public Health England, according to defence officials.

Malaria is transmitted among humans by female mosquitos (Getty Images)

But the issue will come under scrutiny when the defence committee meets in September to decide on its future work. And Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Andrew Marriott MBE has written to Dr Julian Lewis MP, chair of the committee, calling for action. The retired officer has suffered from 'nightmare disorder' for more than a decade after taking Lariam during a tour in Sierra Leone. In his letter, he accuses the MoD of having “ignored the increasing anecdotal and scientific evidence” of the risks of the drug. “I believe this matter to be critical and of great importance to our soldiers and veterans. I hope that you will look favourably on my request for a formal investigation,” he adds.

Several members of the committee support an inquiry. Johnny Mercer, the Conservative MP who raised renewed warnings over Lariam this week, said: “There has not been a study into the effects of this drug on UK Servicemen and I maintain that we must address concerns amongst our Service Community.” He is to bring up the issue at meetings with ministers and military chiefs next week.

Another committee member, Douglas Chapman MP, said: “There appears to be a body of evidence building up which suggest the use of this drug is causing other undesirable effects with the users. We owe it to all our armed forces personnel, indeed we have a duty of care, to ensure that any unexpected or unwanted effects of medication are fully investigated.”

And Dr Lewis commented: “It’s highly probable that we will look at this issue of anti-malarial drugs in the military sooner rather than later.”

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