The UK’s Ministry of Defence has been accused in a highly critical parliamentary report of ignoring manufacturers’ warnings of the risks in using the controversial anti-malarial drug, Lariam, leaving, as a result, servicemen and women to face severe side-effects.
The Independent reports that the help subsequently provided by the MoD to those who were affected by the drug was inadequate and the system of duty-of-care needed to be overhauled, the Commons Defence Committee has stated.
According to the report, it had revealed that the report by the Defence Select Committee was to call for Lariam to be banned except in very restricted circumstances. The MoD now faces legal action from hundreds of victims in the military, many of whom say that their lives have been shattered by being given Lariam.
Dr Julian Lewis, the chair of the committee, pointed out that the high-risk of taking the drug had been highlighted by its makers, Roche, who had laid down stringent conditions for its use. But, he continued: ” …Such conditions have often been disregarded in dispensing it to large numbers of troops about to be deployed. It seems quite clear that not only is the MoD unable to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for prescribing the drug in all instances, but a number of troops discard their Lariam rather than risk its potentially dangerous side-effects.”
“It is our firm conclusion that there is neither the need, nor any justification for continuing to issue this medication to Service personnel unless they can be individually assessed in accordance with the manufacturers’ requirements. And – most of the time – that is simply impossible, when a sudden, mass deployment of hundreds of troops is necessary.”
The report strongly recommended that Lariam should only be prescribed under strict stipulations. It should only be given to those who cannot tolerate alternative medication, only after a choice has been offered between drugs and then only after a face-to-face risk assessment had been carried out. There were also calls for an investigation into the handling of the issue by the MoD.
The Defence Committee said that although the MoD accepted its duty of care towards personnel who suffered Lariam side-effects, the “current arrangements for doing so appear to be inadequate”. It recommended that there should be a single point of contact for those who feel they have been affected and “this point of contact should be publicised widely though the Chain of Command, veterans organisations, the MoD website, and armed forces magazines and publications. Discussions should also be held with the Department of Heath on possible ways of advising GPs of potential risks to veterans who may previously have been prescribed Lariam…”
The law firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors say they have already been contacted by 470 former military personnel prescribed Lariam who have suffered from a range of side effects including hallucinations, severe depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety. Another firm, Irwin Mitchell, say they have received more than 30 approaches from people affected by taking the medication.
Philippa Tuckman, a partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors, who provided evidence to the inquiry said: “While I would have preferred a total ban, this is a welcome and much needed recommendation. The Committee has also confirmed that the MoD has a duty of care in relation to the provision of drugs for service personnel abroad.
“Service personnel have a tendency to be so dedicated that they think only of the duty they owe; it doesn’t occur to them that it should go both ways. Sadly, the MoD will sometimes take advantage of that to get away with providing dramatically substandard care. That is not deliberate, but the catastrophic effect on the lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women is the same as if it were.”Full report in The Independent