British troops put at risk by anti-malaria drug

The drug, linked to a number of suicides, has been banned in the US. Picture: Getty
The drug, linked to a number of suicides, has been banned in the US. Picture: Getty
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British soldiers are being put at risk of developing psychosis by taking an anti-malarial drug that has been banned by the US military, it has been claimed.

Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, has been linked to a number of suicides and murders among troops, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against those with a history of depression taking it.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it continued to prescribe mefloquine on the advice of Public Health England. He said the MoD participated in the Medicines Healthcare Regulation Agency’s “Yellow Card scheme”, where adverse reactions to any medication are reported directly to the MHRA, which is responsible for investigating any claims.

But a former senior medical officer accused the MoD of ignoring repeated warnings over the dangers of Larium.

Lieutenant Colonel Ashley Croft told a newspaper: “For the past 12 years I was saying this is potentially a dangerous drug – most people can take it without problems but a few people will experience difficulties and of those a small number will become psychotic, and because there are other alternatives that are safer and just as effective we should move to them but my words fell on deaf ears.”

Dr Remington Nevin, a former US army doctor and expert on the psychiatric effects of mefloquine, told the paper the drug was known as the “Agent Orange” of this generation.

A spokeswoman for the Public Health England Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention (ACMP) said it was not aware of any new information to change its view of the medicine as an effective anti-malarial.

She said: “The ACMP regularly reviews data on safety and efficacy of all anti-malarials.

“In line with other international authorities, we will continue to recommend the use of mefloquine as an anti-malarial for travellers.”

The MoD spokesman said: “All our medical advice is based on the current guidelines set out by Public Health England.

“Based on their expert advice, the MoD continues to prescribe mefloquine. It is just one of the prevention treatments available and is only prescribed under certain circumstances.”

The FDA released an update “regarding neurologic and psychiatric side-effects” of the drug in July and gave its label a boxed warning – the most serious kind – about the potential problems.

Neurologic side-effects can include dizziness and loss of balance while psychiatric side-effects included feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed, or having hallucinations. If a patient develops symptoms, mefloquine should be stopped and an alternate should used, it said.

The US military banned Lariam after it was linked to the case of one of its soldiers who massacred 16 Afghan civilians in June.