Australian veterans welcome British report on controversial drug mefloquine

In the ADF, mefloquine is used only if doxycycline or malarone fail. Photo: ADF
In the ADF, mefloquine is used only if doxycycline or malarone fail. Photo: ADF

Australian veterans have welcomed a British parliamentary report calling on the Ministry of Defence to overhaul its use of controversial drug Lariam, known in Australia as mefloquine.

Both British and Australian veterans have linked the drug to insomnia, hallucinations, depression and vertigo. In some cases, the drug has complicated post-traumatic stress diagnoses and been blamed for suicidal thoughts.

The report, commissioned after an inquiry last year, found there was "very strong anecdotal evidence" showing British officers ignored warnings from the drug's manufacturer and dispensed it to large numbers of troops.

Unlike the ADF, British forces have not preferenced which antimalarial drugs are prescribed to soldiers, leading to a higher rate of side effects. In Australia, mefloquine is used only if doxycycline or malarone fail.

The report called on the British forces to treat the drug as a last resort, as it is by the ADF.

Former ADF officer Ray Martin, now a spokesman for the Alliance of Defence Service Organisation, said the report showed the drug was not compatible with military personnel and government had a duty of care.

"The report reflects similar findings of the recent Australian senate inquiry into ADF mental health, which supported the implementation of a healthcare outreach program for all ADF veterans previously given Lariam," he said.

The bipartisan senate committee, chaired by South Australian Senator Alex Gallacher, found further investigation of the antimalarial was necessary despite significant efforts to improve transparency.

"That similar issues have arisen regarding the administration of mefloquine to veterans of Australian allies gives further weight to the need for the issue to be further examined," the report said.

The report called on the ADF to explain the potentially damaging side effects of the drug to every veteran who has taken the drug since its trial in 2000.

The Department of Defence has recently launched an online database of information and advice on mefloquine, including a question-and-answer service for veterans.

ADF officials have stated they have nothing to hide, with Surgeon-General Tracy Smart attending a health forum in Townsville earlier this year to meet concerned veterans.

But Dr Jane Quinn, an academic researcher at Charles Sturt University who was a witness to the British inquiry, has called on the government to launch an inquiry into the health effects of the drug on veterans.

She also called on the Department of Defence to launch an outreach program "to provide urgently needed healthcare and other support to affected veterans and families".

"This support should include the publication of clinical guidelines to be shared with civilian GPs and health practitioners so they can properly diagnose and manage affected veterans," she said.

About 25 ADF personnel are treated with mefloquine each year because they are intolerant to other anti-malarial medication, according to the ADF.

The drug was banned by US Special Forces three years ago.

This story Australian veterans welcome British report on controversial drug mefloquine first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.