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Government to study Lariam
Government to study Lariam
Government to study Lariam
By Rebekah Sanderlin
The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs will study the side effects of Lariam, a drug given to servicemen to prevent malaria.
Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said a subcommittee of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board met two weeks ago to consider ways to study the use of Lariam among service members.
The Epidemiological Board provides scientific and professional advice to the Department of Defense on operational programs, policy development and research programs and on prevention of disease and injury, Turner said.
A Veterans Affairs spokeswoman said the VA will review the issue but has not issued a report on the study. She said she could not provide any other information until the report has been issued.
Lariam, which is also known as mefloquine, is routinely prescribed to soldiers working in countries where malaria is a problem. Some people have blamed it for causing psychotic reactions, including depression, hallucinations and thoughts of suicide.
It was suspected as a factor in murders and murder-suicides involving Fort Bragg soldiers in the summer of 2002, when four soldiers were accused of killing their wives. Authorities said two of the soldiers committed suicide after killing their wives. A third committed suicide in jail.
Three of those soldiers were assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command and had been deployed to Afghanistan, where Lariam is routinely used by U.S. troops.
According to an investigation report issued in November 2002 by the office of the Army Surgeon General, two of the four soldiers had taken Lariam. The Army would not identify those soldiers.
The report said Lariam was not likely a factor in the killings.
In rare cases, Lariam has been associated with serious adverse reactions such as hallucinations and convulsions and minor side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbance and dizziness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends that people involved in tasks that require fine coordination and spatial discrimination, such as airline pilots, and people with a history of epilepsy or psychiatric disorders not take Lariam.
United Press International reported on April 12 that the Department of Veterans Affairs will review the drug to determine if it can cause long-term health and mental problems.
Jeanne Lese is co-founder of Lariam Action USA, a group that provides information about the drug through a Web site, http://www.lariaminfo.org.
She questioned the intentions behind the planned government studies.
"I hope it's a good-faith-effort study," Lese said. "But you have to ask, 'Is the VA the best group to study a problem within the VA?' I hope they would hire some independent scientists to do the study."
Turner said the Department of Defense intends to use outside scientists in its study. He said the study may begin within the next several months. A start date will depend on recommendations of the subcommittee.
The study could take several years to complete, he said, and it has not been determined if active-duty and retired members of the military will be asked to participate.
Alternatives in Iraq
The Department of Defense does not recommend using Lariam for service members deployed to Iraq, Turner said.
Instead, the antimalarial drugs doxycycline or chloroquine, which protect against the type of malaria typically found in Iraq, are recommended. Lariam is available on a case-by-case basis in Iraq and is one of three antimalarial drugs used by service members in Afghanistan, Turner said.
Lese said the military should reconsider giving Lariam to service members in combat areas because of the CDC's warning that it should not be used by people performing tasks that require fine coordination and spatial discrimination.
"Shooting guns requires fine motor skills," Lese said. "We shouldn't be giving this drug to people with guns."
Turner said military operational commanders and medical advisers decide whether to use antimalarial medications when they are planning missions.
"The combatant command surgeon then may recommend one or more antimalarials for specific deployment location," Turner said. "Like many prescription medications, antimalarials are not tolerated equally by all people and, therefore, the specific medication prescribed to individual service members may vary."
He said the Department of Defense will continue to use all available antimalarial medications, including Lariam.
"Under some conditions, mefloquine is the only antimalarial that will protect our service members, and not using it in such instances could lead to severe illnesses or death," Turner said.
Lese agrees that in some instances Lariam is an invaluable drug. "We are not saying that Lariam should be taken off the market," she said.
Lese said the drug is useful in fighting malaria once it has been contracted. She said her group wants the military to screen service members for psychological problems and tell them about the potential side effects before prescribing Lariam.
She said people experiencing side effects such as hallucinations and paranoia are often not aware of the problem and must rely on others to identify them.
"The military in general should be apprised of the side effects so they can recognize them in each other if adverse reactions should occur," Lese said.
Shannon Lynch, a spokeswoman for Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, said all servicemen are screened before being prescribed any medication to make sure they will not have a reaction to the drug.
Soldiers are advised of possible side effects, including those for mefloquine, Lynch said.
Staff writer Rebekah Sanderlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-4848, ext. 372.