The Army's use of anti-malarial drug Lariam places cost above safety


Wednesday 15 April 2015 20:28 BST

There is no mystery to the Ministry of Defence’s continued use of the anti-malarial drug Lariam. It comes in at half, or a third, of the price of the alternatives. The cost borne by those troops given the drug, however, can be high. A string of warnings that Lariam can induce psychotic episodes, even suicide, has convinced the United States military – along with those of Germany, Denmark and Canada – to ban Lariam, or offer it only as a “last resort”. The MoD’s persistence in giving out the drug as standard practice places the health of its accounts above that of the men and women it has a duty to protect. It amounts to a shameful case of neglect.

The Independent reports that hundreds of British soldiers are succumbing to mental illness as a result of taking Lariam. In the past year alone – during which almost 2,000 troops were given the drug – 263 required medical treatment. This is not the first time that we have covered the story, but it ought to be the last. Given that the possible side-effects include serious mental breakdown, the Army risks the lives of troops and civilians in so freely doling out a chemical shunned by travellers and medical professionals since the adverse effects first became widely known in the 1990s. The US military dropped Mefloquine – Lariam’s generic name – in 2013 soon after it was linked to the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a member of the Special Forces.

It should not take a catastrophe of this ilk for the MoD to change course. The Army has cravenly attempted to pass the buck through its repeated insistence that, since Public Health England has not outright condemned the drug, they are only following “guidelines”. They neglect to mention that the British public is not provided with weaponry, and can choose other drugs. Soldiers simply do not have that fortune.

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