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.

‘Doomsday clock’ still at five to midnight, scientists warn.


The Doomsday Clock has been used by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist since 1947 to represent the perceived danger of a catastophic nuclear event. (AFP Photo / Scott Olson)The Doomsday Clock has been used by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist since 1947 to represent the perceived danger of a catastophic nuclear event.

The doomsday clock – a theoretical device that purports to tell us how close we are to a nuclear apocalypse – has frozen at five minutes to midnight, unchanged from last year. Physicists tell the head of the UN there is little reason to move it back.

The visual metaphor has held its appeal for more than 60 years now. The hands of time are moved in accordance with the analyses of a special board of scientists who ponder international threats, especially those having to do with nuclear armaments.

While a team of physicists writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted some positive developments in 2013 – including successful talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and the fact that overall there has been a reduction in nuclear armaments worldwide – they decided there was still little hope for jubilation:

“As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies,” wrote the scientists on the board.

“We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking,” they added.

The clock was first launched in 1947 by the editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The wife of one of the researchers on the team, Martyl Langsdorf, had offered her artistic rendition of the object.

Back in 1947, the clock had showed seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, things looked the most critical in the clock’s entire history to date: they showed two minutes to midnight, following the US and Russian nitrogen bomb tests, spaced only nine months apart.

Meanwhile, 1991 was in the minds of the scientists the safest year: the Cold War had ended, and there was thankfully an agreement between the world’s then-superpowers, the US and the USSR, on reducing strategic nuclear arsenals.

 

A depiction of the Doomsday Clock is removed following an announcement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) announcing that it has moved the hands to five minutes to midnight, up one minute from two years ago, at the American Association for the Advancement in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)A depiction of the Doomsday Clock is removed following an announcement by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) announcing that it has moved the hands to five minutes to midnight, up one minute from two years ago, at the American Association for the Advancement in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

All in all, the clock’s hand changed its position 20 times. In 2012 it moved to five minutes to midnight, which symbolizes hypothetical nuclear annihilation.

The scientists believe that Russia and the United States must continue to make progress on eradicating their nuclear arsenals and further negotiate.

Specifically, once there [at the table], “they should take the courageous steps needed to further shrink their nuclear arsenals, to scrap their deployment of destabilizing missile defenses, and to reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons.”

They were also not too happy about China, India and Pakistan making strides in the opposite direction with their military developments – including the stockpiling of fissile materials.

The group thought that the Fukushima catastrophe would wake the world up to the necessities of moving away from nuclear energy, but complained that only Germany and Switzerland really made huge strides, while countries like the United Kingdom are discussing the construction of new nuclear facilities yet.

The group is also unhappy with the progress the UN has made in the field of climate sustainability and negotiations on policies in that area. The threat of global warming, they say, is still real. After all, since 2007, they claim the clock reflects not only nuclear catastrophe, but also climate change.

The physicists also wrote that, while there have been leaps in the development and spread of new technologies, the world is not growing fast enough to catch up to them and control them. Amongst them are breakthroughs in the fields of biology and cybernetic technologies – such as drones.

They believe that new bodies must be set up for dealing with all emerging technologies.

“The revolution in information technology is accelerating, and the consequences of such broad and fast-paced technological change cannot be foreseen. Some of the results of this revolution, such as military robotics and cyber warfare, will challenge international law and the norms of war, much as nuclear weapons do. These scientific advances require serious attention and policy action—before our newest technologies fuel another senseless and dangerous arms race.”