16 Apr 2015

Labour vows review after 994 troops ‘stricken by Lariam’

Labour promises an “immediate review” into the MoD’s use of a controversial anti-malarial drug after new figures show the scale of mental health problems among veterans prescribed Lariam.

An incoming Labour government would order an “immediate review” into the prescription of Lariam by the Ministry of Defence after it emerged that nearly 1,000 former British servicemen and women were requiring psychiatric treatment.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws suggest 994 personnel have been treated for mental health issues after being prescribed the controversial drug – the use of which has been connected to a series of military suicides and incidents of self-harm in the last two decades.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker said the issue was of “grave concern” and promised an immediate review should the party win power next month.

He said: “Given the growing evidence of the potential damage caused by this drug we are committed to immediately reviewing its use should we form the next government.”

The figures, obtained by The Independent, suggest the drug was given to 1,892 British service personnel in 2014 – a year in which 263 needed medical treatment after taking it.

‘A scandal’

They include the former major general Alastair Duncan, who is currently in a psychiatric unit after taking the drug. His wife Ellen told the newspaper: “Like others, I believe that this is a scandal. If 1,000 troops have reported the effects then you can be sure there are others who have not. I know personally of several and anecdotally of several more.”

Lariam – which is the brand name for the drug Mefloquine – has long been the subject of warnings over its effects on mental health. It was developed by the US Army in the 1970s and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decades later.

But it has since been banned by the US Special Forces, and replaced by newer antimalarial drugs, such as the more expensive Malarone.

‘Russian roulette’

Madeleine Moon, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bridgend and former member of the Commons and Defence Select Committee said the statistics were “beyond belief” and said that the MoD were imposing a “Russian roulette risk”.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman told Channel 4 News that the drug was prescribed only under guidelines set out by Public Health England. “Mefloquine is used across the UK, not just by the military, and is only ever prescribed after an individual risk assessment,” he said.

“There is no defined caveat from any advisory body in the world that suggests its use should be restricted in military personnel or people who handle weapons.”

A spokesman for the Conservatives told Channel 4 News that their position on the drug remained in line with the MoD and that no review was planned.