WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) — The Department of Veterans Affairs is warning doctors to watch for long-term mental problems and other health effects from an anti-malaria drug given to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The drug is mefloquine, known by the brand name Lariam, which has been given to tens of thousands of soldiers since the war on terrorism began. Some of those soldiers say it has provoked severe mental and physical problems including suicidal and violent behavior, psychosis, convulsions and balance disorders. Last year the Food and Drug Administration began warning that problems might last “long after” someone stops taking it.
The VA warned its own doctors Wednesday that the drug “may rarely be associated with certain long-term chronic health problems that persist for weeks, months, and even years after the drug is stopped,” according to a summary of published studies by a VA panel of experts. The summary accompanies an “information letter” from the VA’s acting undersecretary for health, Dr. Jonathan B. Perlin, to healthcare professionals who treat veterans.
Veterans’ advocates praised the VA but said the Pentagon seems to have lost track of who has taken the drug — making the size of a potentially serious problem unclear.
While little mefloquine was used in the first Gulf War, advocates said a similar dearth of medical data has thwarted efforts to get to the bottom of Gulf War Syndrome for a decade. Investigators simply did not know what drugs or vaccines — possible contributors to that syndrome — were given to solders.
“We are pleased that the VA is taking a proactive approach to this situation,” said Steve Smithson, assistant director of the American Legion’s National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.
“It is no secret that the military did not do a good job of record keeping in the first Gulf War,” said Smithson. “Early reports on Lariam make me concerned that we did not learn the lessons from the first Gulf War in that it is not being documented in health records.”
United Press International has reviewed many medical records and has interviewed dozens of soldiers at eight military bases in the United States and Europe who said they took the drug. None of the soldiers who said they took mefloquine had it noted in their medical records. read more
Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted, VA alerts doctors to malaria-drug concerns, United Press International, 24 June 2004.
Dan Olmsted, Military drops toxic-drug diagnosis, United Press International, 9 February 2005.
Dan Olmsted, Army suicide rate in Iraq plummets, United Press International, 28 January 2005.
Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted, Army surrenders to ‘coward’ GI, United Press International, 16 July 2004.