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Giving anti-malaria drug Lariam to Irish troops "beggars belief", says support group

Support group Action Lariam for Irish Soldiers has said that the official policy on the drug needs to change.

Image: Flickr/IrishDefenceForces

A SUPPORT GROUP that helps Defence Forces personnel deal with the side-effects of anti-malarial drug Lariam have been meeting TDs this afternoon.

The meeting comes as the group attempts to reduce the use of Lariam in the Irish Defence Forces and have it designated a “drug of last resort”.

Lariam, a brand name for mefloquine, is associated with severe side effects including depression, anxiety and hallucination but continues to be administered to Irish troops on overseas deployments.

Other anti-malarial drugs are also used but Lariam is prescribed to prevent particular strains of malaria, particularly to people who are visiting sub-Saharan Africa.

An inquiry by the UK’s Defence Select Committee earlier this year concluded that Lariam had a “high risk profile” and that it should only be prescribed to “those who are unable to take any of the available alternatives.”

Lariam has also been removed from sale in the Irish market.

Irish support group Action Lariam for Irish Soldiers argues that such alternatives are available and wants the Defence Forces to change its policy on the drug.

Andrew Bryce works with the support group having experienced side-effects that he claims came from taking Lariam prior to a honeymoon in Kenya 20 years ago.

He says that he’s heard from current members of the Defence Forces who are “terrified” by the prospect of taking the drug and about how it could affect them.

“The situation as it pertains can’t go on, it shouldn’t have gone on this long,” Bryce says.

And the fact that, particularly after the ruling by the UK’s Defence Select Committee, that the Irish Defence Forces are reiterating their completely outdated stance beggars belief.

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Last month, Minister of State in the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe TD told the Dáil that he has been told by the Defence Forces that, “Lariam is the most suitable drug for members going abroad”.

Asked by Lisa Chambers TD to share the medical advice he received, Kehoe claimed that doing so would mean he would have to reveal the medical advice given to individual members of the Defence Forces.

Acknowledging the dangers of malaria and the need to prevent Defence Forces members from contracting it, Bryce says that the preventative nature of Lariam means that the risk assessment needs to be different:

All drugs have side-effects, but the vast majority of drugs you take you take when you’re already sick to make you better…But Lariam is a drug that you have prescribed to you when you’re completely healthy to keep you better.

Read: FactCheck: Was Willie O’Dea really not aware of concerns over Lariam, while he was Minister? >

Read: Shatter dismisses link between anti-malaria drug and soldiers’ suicides >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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