Thursday, December 10, 2015

Austrailian soldier claims antimarial drug mefloquine caused brain damage

This story is relevant to Lyme because of the references to doxycycline (the antibiotic most often used for treating Lyme disease) and anti-malarial drugs such as Lariam. That drug brings to mind other antimalarials such as Mepron and Malarone, both used for treating Babesia in the brain.

A West Australian former soldier has spoken out over fears an anti-malaria drug he took as part of a pharmaceutical trial while serving has left him with a permanent and debilitating brain injury.

Former rifleman Mathew Emerson came forward after another high-ranking currently serving soldier gave evidence at a Senate inquiry last week,detailing concerns hundreds of soldiers may have suffered severe long-term side effects from the drug mefloquine, including depression, anxiety, vertigo, nightmares and suicidal thoughts.

Mr Emerson, 35, said his battalion was offered the choice of mefloquine, marketed as Lariam, or the older more established drug doxycycline, prior to a planned deployment to East Timor in 2001.

"They said 'it's got less side effects than doxycycline, and you only need to take it once a week', so most of the people I knew decided to take the mefloquine," he said.

"I felt perfectly safe and that the Army had my life as their best interest. They trained me, they're meant to look after me, but in this case, they didn't."

He said he was told to sign a consent form, and that if he did not sign it he could not deploy.

He stopped taking the drug after experiencing nausea, but then was placed back on it for another five weeks.

In 2003, Mr Emerson said he started to "go downhill" mentally.

"I started to feel depressed. I wanted to kill myself, had constant thoughts about it," he said.

"I went to see the Army psychiatrists, and it sounded stupid when I went to say the words so I didn't say anything, I just kept my mouth shut.

"I put on a rosy exterior, just tried to keep a smile on my face all the time."

He also started having nightmares and outbursts of anger, and in 2004 had a complete nervous breakdown where he woke up in hospital with no memory of the previous few days, despite being conscious and alert during that time.

Mefloquine use in Australia

  • Mefloquine approved for use by Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in 1993
  • Drug's factsheet from manufacturer Roche notes neuropsychiatric effects including anxiety, paranoia, depression and psychotic behaviour have been reported to occur long after the drug has ceased to be taken
  • The ADF continues to prescribe mefloquine, but says it is a "third-line agent", and only used when one of two other TGA-approved medications are not appropriate
  • ADF says prescriptions have averaged 25 per year for the past five years

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