Kenny defends use of anti-malaria drug Lariam despite concerns

Taoiseach says Defence Forces ‘following international best practice’ by screening

Lariam: the US military  banned it in 2009 and other armies around the world have  dropped it as a “first line” drug, while the British issue it only with strict advice to avoid alcohol.

Lariam: the US military banned it in 2009 and other armies around the world have dropped it as a “first line” drug, while the British issue it only with strict advice to avoid alcohol.

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:05

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the Army’s continued use of the controversial anti-malaria drug Lariam, five years after the US military which pioneered the drug dropped it in the face of health concerns and legal actions from members of the military.

Here the State is currently facing legal actions from 30 members of the Defence Forces who say their health was damaged by taking Lariam. The drug is prescribed to troops serving on UN missions in Africa including Eritrea, Liberia and Chad.

The court martial of a soldier accused of sexual assault this week heard evidence from Dr Ashley Croft, a British specialist in infectious diseases and public health, who said Lariam had been linked to neuropsychiatric disorders including, depression, suicidal tendencies and unusual behaviour, nightmares and psychosis, among other symptoms.

He said the US military had banned it in 2009 and other armies around the world had dropped it as a “first line” drug, while the British issued it only with strict advice to avoid alcohol. The trial was also told that distributors Roche products had issued “guidance to healthcare practitioners” which listed potential side-effects as including depression, suicidal tendencies, paranoia, unusual behaviour, amnesia and restlessness.

The Army private who had claimed he was suffering from the side-effects of Lariam was found guilty on Thursday and has yet to be sentenced.

Separate from that case, a campaign group, Action Lariam for Irish Soldiers, has been formed in recent years. Their spokesman Anthony Moore left the Army in 2009 after 25 years service over what he said were Lariam-related issues.

He told The Irish Times the group comprised more than 1,200 members and former members of the Defence Forces and their families. The group has called for the publication of the expert report on Lariam which was given to the then Minister for Defence Alan Shatter last year.

In the Dáil last year, Mr Shatter referred to impending compensation cases and claimed legal privilege over the report. The Department of Defence confirmed this week that papers had been served in 18 of the 30 cases notified to the Department and the State Claims Agency.

In a written reply to a question from Independent TD Finian McGrath on Wednesday, Mr Kenny said the Defence Forces’ practice of screening out those likely to experience adverse side-effects was “following international best practice”. The Taoiseach assumed responsibility for the Department of Defence when Mr Shatter resigned.

Mr Kenny said “a medical risk assessment for Lariam is carried out on an individual basis”. This was intended “to rule out personnel from overseas service with certain conditions, eg depression, anxiety, pregnancy, neurodegenerative disorders etc which, as has been indicated by the Irish Medicines Board, are more likely to precipitate serious adverse reactions to Lariam”.

This approach was also recommended by a second medical expert, Dr Ron Behrens. He told the court martial this week that while Lariam was effective in the prevention and treatment of malaria, he would not prescribe it if a patient had displayed symptoms of depression, anxiety or was taking the contraceptive pill, or for those who did n’ot want it.

Dr Behrens, who was a witness for the prosecution at the court martial, said the drug had been developed by the US military for use by troops in Vietnam and was used for decades until 2009. He ascribed the US authoritiesban on the drug to media reports spreading concern and to litigation over the drug.