WEEKLY WRAP: Mefloquine, Madness, and the Military Massacre
by Dan Olmsted
Age of Autism, June 2013
Some of you know that I wandered into the autism world through my reporting on an anti-malaria drug called Lariam that was causing some really hard-core symptoms, such as psychosis, suicide, and even aggressive behavior up to and including homicide. Quite an adverse-events roster, especially given that when I first started reporting on it back in 1999, it was the CDC’s first-choice anti-malarial, and the agency said that reports of such side effects were overblown, unlikely — even patently false.
Just “traveler’s psychosis,” sniffed the malaria surveillance officer at the CDC.
Meanwhile, elite soldiers coming back from Afghanistan committed murder-suicides, Peace Corps volunteers ended up in long-term psych wards, and random travelers came back from nice trips to Africa and blew their brains out. Association is not causation, the experts opined. “People with Internet mystique” who didn’t know what they were talking about, the Army Surgeon General warned Congress about those sounding the alarm. (Sound familiar?)
But it was clearly happening. This denialism led me directly to another question: If the CDC, the FDA and the drug company could stand foursquare behind such a toxic substance, what about vaccines and autism — a question first raised by my reporting partner at the time, Mark Benjamin, in a 2003 investigative report that I edited. Mark went on to do distinguished work on several other subjects. I got stuck on this question of whether vaccines and the autism epidemic were related — which, I’ve concluded based on my own reporting, they were. And are.
But back to Lariam, known generically as mefloquine. Over the years, the CDC has dialed back on recommending it; the FDA has ratcheted up the warnings, which now do mention suicide and say that effects can last “long after” someone stops taking it (FDA speak for, “forever”); the manufacturer, Roche pharmaceuticals, has stopped selling it in the United States (along with its equally suicide-inducing anti-acne medicine, Accutane), and the Army no longer pushes it on every soldier it deploys to malarial hot zones, like Afghanistan.
But it’s still an approved prescription drug, and it still is prescribed thousands of times a year, and the Army — which invented it — can’t bear to actually ban its use, which, given the toxic brew of guns, PTSD, and violence into which it is introduced, is truly wild.
This long-running record of delay and denial has now run smack into its karmic brick wall, it appears — a soldier who committed the worst atrocity (on our side) in the war on terror. Time mag reported this week that Sgt. Robert Bales, who just pleaded guilty to slaughtering 17 Afghan civilians in 2012, including women and children, and set some of them on fire, may have been taking mefloquine. It’s something a lot of us who know what this drug can do have been speculating about for quite some time.
Time cites a document filed with the drugmaker and forwarded to the FDA. While it’s not clear who filed it, the reference to a homicide of 16 civilians (the first press accounts used that figure) could only be referring to Bales’ rampage, and the use of the term “medically confirmed” suggests Roche was satisfied that Bales was taking it. As Time points out, the Army has yet to say whether he took it or not — suspicious in itself — and it is now past time for the military to come clean. Here’s a portion of the report on file with the FDA: (Click photo to enlarge.)
Read the rest of this story:
Read more about the alleged FDA cover-up of Bales massacre:
Filed under: Resources | Tagged: Afghan Massacre Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, anti-malarial, Dam Olmstead, Dr Remington Nevin, Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Lariam, Mark Benjamin, Mefloquine, Military Suicide, Murder-suicide, Robert Bales, Suicide, U.S. Center for Disease Control CDC |