Mad as a box of frogs

Sima Kotecha reports for the BBC  that MP’s on the Defence Select Committee have ruled that anti-malarial drug Lariam should be the “drug of last resort” for UK troops.

Lariam should be drug of last resort for troops, MPs say – BBC News

Committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis  concludes: “there is neither the need, nor any justification for continuing to issue this medication to service personnel.”

The MOD’s insistence on dispensing a drug known to induce hallucinations, aggression and psychotic behaviour to those entrusted with instruments of death and destruction, particularly when alternatives were available, always struck me as – well – nuts:

“As improbable as it may seem, and despite years of repeated warnings, the MoD issues Lariam to troops as its anti‑malarial prophylactic of choice. It’s a drug that, according to the manufacturer, ‘may induce potentially serious neuropsychiatric disorders including hallucinations, psychosis, suicide, suicidal thoughts and self‑endangering behaviour’. The MoD, apparently unconcerned by this warning, doggedly refuses to switch to an alternative. Even after the US Army introduced a ban, and UK Service Chiefs queued up to criticise the policy, the MoD insisted on its continued use.

Major General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands War, came to the conclusion this was because ‘the MoD has a large supply of Lariam, and some chairborne jobsworth has decreed that, as a cost‑saving measure, the stocks are to be consumed before an alternative is purchased’.

My personal conclusion is slightly at odds with the Major General’s. It seems to me that the MoD mandarins continue to risk the mental health of their soldiers because they are themselves as mad as a box of frogs.

All those who served in the Iraq and Afghan wars will have been issued Lariam under the generic name mefloquine. Nearly 1,000 UK service personnel are known to have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals, or treated at mental health clinics, as a result of being prescribed the drug. In 2012, more British veterans of the two conflicts took their own lives than soldiers died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan over the same period.

mefloquine-tablet-250x250

It is a terrible coincidence that the side effects of Lariam closely resemble those linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some experts believe that Lariam amplifies the effects of PTSD and the British Army now faces a mental health catastrophe. The Ministry of Defence, on the other hand, continues to maintain that the incidence of mental health issues in army personnel is broadly in line with the general population, and continues to prescribe mefloquine.

On the night of 11th March 2012, US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales murdered 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province in a brutal and apparently motiveless attack. Bales could not explain his actions and admitted ‘There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did.’

Bales’ killing spree was incomprehensible not only to him but also to everyone in Task Force Helmand. Threat levels were raised in anticipation of retaliatory attacks, and we all speculated on the impulse that led him to leave the security of his patrol base before sadistically slaying innocent women and children. While we could find no rational explanation, the makers of Lariam thought they knew the answer.

A month after the mass killings Roche, who manufacture Lariam and claim on their website to be ‘passionate about transforming patients’ lives’, notified the US Food and Drug Administration that Bales had been given the anti‑malarial drug (in direct contradiction to US military rules) and ‘developed homicidal behaviour and led to Homicide killing 17 [sic] Afghanis’.

Although it never occurred to me that mass murder could be linked to the seemingly innocuous little white tablets with which I’d been issued, I’d already stopped taking them. No one had counselled me on their potential side effects but they’d caused me to feel so unwell that I’d decided I would be better off with malaria.”

Roche have agreed with the committee’s findings but, as if to confirm my deep held suspicions that they are, indeed, as mad as a box of frogs the MOD are still not listening, stating instead:

“We have a duty to protect our personnel from malaria and we welcome the committee’s conclusion that, in some cases, Lariam will be the most effective way of doing that.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

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