1,000 British soldiers given psychiatric help after consuming ‘zombie drug’ – new figures

The British military is accused of failing to protect its soldier’s mental health. Figures show nearly 1,000 have sought psychiatric treatment after being given the MoD’s budget price anti-malarial drug Lariam.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed the figure is much higher than previously thought, with 994 service personnel being admitted to mental health clinics or psychiatric hospitals since 2008.

The figures only go back to 2007, so the true number may be much higher, as Lariam, also known as mefloquine, has been in use for much longer.

The MoD has consistently defended the drug, which is one of several it issues to troops, amid concerns that Lariam is contributing to an Armed Forces mental health epidemic. This is despite growing pressure from senior military figures, campaigners and relatives of those affected.

The drug, banned by US Special Forces two years ago, and which the UK military avoids giving to pilots or divers, is still issued to UK troops.

Its use continues despite evidence linking the anti-malarial to the 2012 Panjwai Massacre, in which a US soldier slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians after taking the drug.

Sergeant Robert Bales has since been sentenced to life imprisonment.

In an internal report, Roche, the drug’s manufacturer, described the killings as an “adverse event.

Roche themselves have conceded that the side effects can include “hallucinations, psychosis, suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-endangering behavior” and may induce “serious neuropsychiatric disorders.

Reuters / Nigel Roddis

The figures come as it was revealed a retired British general, who took the drug during service, is currently in a secure psychiatric unit.

Major General Alastair Duncan commanded British troops in Bosnia. His wife, Ellen, told the Independent: “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 many more.

The long-term effects of this will be more and more in evidence over the coming years.

She said the MoD was “staggeringly unprepared to deal with the fallout.

In 2012, Dr Remington Nevin, a US Army epidemiologist whose research found the drug could be toxic to the brain, told the Daily Mail: “Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It’s dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago.

He said Lariam was “probably the worst-suited drug for the military,” adding that its side effects closely matched the symptoms of combat stress.

Considering why the drug remains in use, one former general speculated that it was a matter of economics over welfare.

Former marine Major General Julian Thompson led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War. He told the Independent: “I can only come to the conclusion that the MoD has a large supply of Lariam, and some ‘chairborne’ jobsworth in the MoD has decreed that as a cost-saving measure, the stocks are to be consumed before an alternative is purchased.

Larium is significantly cheaper than comparable anti-malarials, such as Doxycycline and Malarone.

An MoD spokesperson said: “All our medical advice is based on the current guidelines set out by Public Health England.

Based on this expert advice, the MoD continues to prescribe mefloquine (Lariam) as part of the range of malaria prevention treatments recommended, which help us to protect our personnel from this disease.

The Labour Party responded to the revelations by promising to fully address the impacts and use of Lariam if the party comes to power in the May general election.

Shadow Defense Secretary Vernon Coaker told Channel 4: “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.

Pentagon developing combat chewing gum .

Reuters/Andrew Burton

Maintaining good dental health may not seem like it’d be a top priority for soldiers, but the US military is hard at work developing a new kind of chewing gum that can battle cavities.

Simply dubbed “Combat Gum,” the new product is currently under development at the Army Institute of Surgical Research. Featuring a synthetic collection of anti-microbial peptide – the same naturally-occurring molecules in human saliva that kill bacteria – the gum can potentially help reduce plaque and tooth decay, as well as prevent cavities.

The gum has been in development for roughly seven years, and after that much time and up to $12 million spent, the New Yorker is reporting it’s finally entered a testing phase that will last throughout the year. Not many people have tried the gum so far, but according to Domenick Zero, the director of the Indiana University School of Dentistry’s Oral Health Research Institute, the first set of human trials has been completed and “everything is going well.”

Although Zero mentioned “this is not intended to replace tooth brushing,” he told the New Yorker that the gum could reinforce the mouth’s resistance and “prevent pathogens from colonizing our skin, or our mouths, or our defenses.”

Still, if the Combat Gum is effective, at $2 a piece it could potentially save the military a significant amount of cash. The armed forces spend more than $100 million every year on dental procedures, some of which require shouldering the burden of transporting a soldier to another continent for emergency services. According to Colonel Robert Hale, the commander of the Army’s Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, 40 percent of recruits have at least three cavities.

“Oral health is essential to warriors on the battlefield and could potentially save the military countless hours and dollars in dental health,” he told the Army Times in a January report. “[And] it would save a lifetime of dental disease for a significant population.”

Originally intended for soldiers serving in territories lacking water, the Army is now looking to give the gum to those it considers to be high-risk soldiers, who make up 15 percent of all troops. That includes those with multiple cavities and anyone with decaying teeth.

Beyond that, however, there are also preliminary plans to bring the product to the consumer market, much like nicotine gum.

“If we can develop an anti-plaque chewing gum and offer it to a company like, I don’t know, Wrigley’s, and distribute that to the general population, then those kids will come and join the Armed Forces with less dental decay issues,” Hale said.

A Malaria Vaccine Works, With Limits.

A new type of malaria vaccine gave 100 percent protection against infection to a small number of volunteers in recent tests — but under conditions that would be nearly impossible to reproduce in the countries where most malaria victims live.

The vaccine, made by Sanaria, a Maryland company, protected six volunteers who each got five doses over 20 weeks, according to a studypublished last week in Science.

But the vaccine is expensive to make and difficult to administer, and it is not yet clear how long the protection lasts.

“This is a scientific advance rather than a practical one,” said Dr. William Schaffner, the head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University’s medical school. “But any vaccine that provides even a glimmer of hope opens a door, so we have to pursue it.”

Sanaria’s vaccine is made by irradiating mosquitoes that have fed on malaria-infected blood and removing their salivary glands by hand. The radiation-weakened parasites in the saliva are then purified.

In earlier trials, the vaccine failed when injected into the skin, so this time researchers from the Army, Navy and National Institutes of Health gave it by IV. Six volunteers who got five intravenous doses did not get malaria when bitten by infected mosquitoes. Six of nine volunteers who got four doses were protected.

Because the vaccine is made in small batches by hand, it is impractical for poor countries, where malaria sickens more than 200 million people a year and kills about 660,000, most of them infants and pregnant women.

Giving multiple IV doses of any vaccine is also impractical because it requires sterile conditions, trained medical personnel and follow-up. IVs are particularly hard to administer to children. “They’ve been known to squirm,” Dr. Schaffner noted.

The initial target markets for the vaccine are the military and wealthy travelers.  

Source: http://www.nytimes.com