Friday, September 17, 2004

Larium casualties not counted as war casualties

US Army refuse to investigate disorders that implicate anti-malaria drug Larium

According to a UPI investigation, up to 17,000 troops medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan are absent from public Pentagon casualty reports.

These casualties include 5,375 troops who have been diagnosed with mental problems. 800 of them have been diagnosed as psychotic.

By not counting these troops as war casualties the authorities are effectively evading inquiry into the effects of the anti-malaria drug Larium, a drug known to cause depression, suicidal and violent behaviour, hallucinations, convulsions, anxiety, diarrhea, rash, headaches, trembling, intensely vivid and disturbing dreams, night sweats and balance disorders. These effects can persist long after the individual has stopped taking the drug. Personal accounts of the Larium experience can be found at
Larium Action USA.

Larium (also known as mefloquine) was originally developed by The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The Army then licensed the drug to Hoffman-La Roche. Roche claim there is "no credible scientific evidence" linking the drug with "violent criminal behavior.", but,
as UPI note, aggression is listed under the Adverse Reactions section of the official product label.

Both Roche and the Army are seeking to downplay the frequency of Larium related mental disorders. Both have had a vested interest in its use. In the year ending October 2003 the US Army issued 45,000 prescriptions for the drug.

I have personally known one person who was prescribed Larium, and they did indeed suffer from severe depression and hallucinations. That was over 10 years ago. The individual was no longer taking Larium, did not know of the potential side effects and thought they were going mad. It is likely that there are troops who are not associating these symptoms with a drug they are no longer taking, or are attributing its effects to post-traumatic stress disorder, which has similar symptoms.

In June 2004 UPI reported that the Department of Veteran Affairs had warned doctors to be on the look out for these symptoms. Veterans’ advocates noted that Investigations have not been helped by the Pentagon’s apparent failure to keep any records of who has been given Larium, even though they are required to do so by law. This has made it difficult to ascertain what role Larium may have played in Gulf War Syndrome during the first Gulf war. The DoD originally denied that Larium was being used in Iraq, but has since confessed that its use was widespread.

The Army has also recently admitted giving false information to congress last year, when it claimed that only four soldiers who committed suicide had taken the drug. It has since stopped prescribing malaria drugs to troops in Iraq, and has changed its anti-malaria drug of choice in Afghanistan to doxycycline. Suicide rates have since fallen from the spike that occurred whilst Larium was being prescribed, even though combat and length of tours of duty have increased.

In recent years there have been numerous incidents that bear the hallmarks of an adverse reaction to Larium. In 2002 four wives were killed by their soldier husbands at Fort Bragg within a six week period. Two of the soldiers then killed themselves. All of the men involved had been prescribed Larium and three of them had recently returned from Afghanistan.

The Army have chosen not to include pharmaceutical usage in their investigations into the suicides, saying "Assessing the impact of any medications, including mefloquine, on suicides rates was beyond the team's capability."

Since then there have been more suicides amongst special forces troops who took Larium. UPI investigators
Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted point out that:

Special Forces soldiers are highly trained and psychologically vetted. An Army study in 2000 showed Special Forces soldiers produce more of a chemical in the brain that helps them cope with and recover from extreme duress.

"It's just antithetical to their whole practice of their craft to suddenly lose control, become depressed, paranoid, hallucinate and become suicidal," said Dr. Paul Ragan, associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former military psychiatrist. "You have to look for some exogenous factor, some outside factor, something new in the mix that will change how they've otherwise been able to operate."

The journalists gave examples of three suicides by soldiers known to have taken Larium:

- A 43-year-old Special Forces weapons sergeant killed himself in 1997 in Ecuador, where he was helping train Ecuadorian Special Forces. Engaged to be married, he smilingly picked up a gun and shot himself in the head in front of two fellow soldiers.

- A Special Forces sergeant killed himself in July 2003 in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va. Happily married and expecting his first child, Tyler Whiffen, 32, went to the woods behind his condominium and shot himself in the head. "He wasn't depressed at all," said Karla Whiffen, his widow and mother of his 6-month-old son. "In fact, I have never known anyone to enjoy life so much. For him to take his life was so out of the blue. Nothing has surfaced that would make this anything but this drug." Whiffen took Lariam in Afghanistan.

- The most recent case involved Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer William Howell, 36, who served in Iraq and killed himself after returning to Fort Carson, Colo. His wife, Laura, also reported no marital problems. He killed himself in March after stalking her around their yard with a gun and pointing it in her face. He shot himself when police arrived.

"I knew my husband, I knew who he was. I know what he was," said Laura Howell. "The only difference was one pill. A little white pill that he took. There was nothing else in his life that was different, in his job, nothing. And there was no accumulative effect of anything in his life that would lead to suicide."

Larium was prescribed to soldiers serving in Somalia. Many of the personal accounts at Larium Action USA are from this time.

During the Somalia operation in the early 1990s, a Canadian army corporal, Clayton Matchee, allegedly led a group of soldiers who tortured and killed a teenage boy who had snuck into the compound. The incident occurred on what troops called Psycho Tuesday, the day they took their weekly Lariam dose. Matchee subsequently attempted suicide by hanging and suffered permanent brain damage.

Despite the authorities reluctance to implicate Larium, the journalists report that:

This summer, a Navy doctor at a Pentagon treatment facility in San Diego has begun to diagnose service members with permanent brain-stem damage and fingered Lariam as the apparent culprit. One Special Forces soldier diagnosed with that permanent damage said Lariam has given him homicidal and suicidal urges.

"I can tell you from my own personal experience that it goes from zero to 100 very quickly," said this active-duty soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "You're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly. It's just a sudden thought it's the right thing to do. You'll get a mental picture, and it's in full color."


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