Lariam for military personnel: an unacceptable risk

The House of Commons Defence Committee will publish its report An acceptable risk? The use of Lariam for military personnel  on 24th May

Having both given evidence to the inquiry and carefully considered the submissions of other witness, I am hopeful that the Committee will endorse our call for a ban on the use of Lariam in the armed forces.

I think it is also vital that the Members criticise the MoD’s failures over the years to take account of clear warnings in relation to the drug, and to protect service men and women from its serious effects.

I have been campaigning for the MoD to recognise that the casual way in which it has administered  Lariam to service personnel over many years constitutes yet another  breach of its legal duty of care towards our military personnel.

During the enquiry it became clear that the failure to give soldiers the benefit of basic safeguards was even more widespread than I had feared. The fact that Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd has been contacted by some 470 personnel who fear they have been harmed by taking this drug in service only goes to show how serious the problem is.

This is horrifying.  All drugs have side effects, and doctors have to be sure that patients understand what they are, even if they are prescribing a hay fever tablet.   The patient must be allowed to weigh up whether the benefits for them outweigh the dangers. Above all, the doctor must avoid unnecessary risk.

Lariam isn’t a hay fever tablet. It’s a drug which is rightly feared because of its strong association with neuropsychiatric side effects. As long ago as 1996 these were listed by the medicines watchdog, the MHRA, as including;

 

  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoid delusions
  • Convulsions

 

All of these can, says the MHRA, be “severe and protracted.”

To protect against those effects,  any doctor who is considering giving a patient Lariam – and, whatever the MoD may imply to the contrary,  this includes any military doctor or health provider – must take some very important checks.

 

Above all, they must

 

  • Ensure that nobody who has a history of any sort of depression, convulsions, or any sort of neuropsychiatric disturbance (such as PTSD) is given the drug, under any circumstances

 

  • Warn the patient that the drug is associated with these very serious side effects and

 

  • Advise them that if these occur they must get medical advice before the next dose is due

 

 

Failing to take these precautions is a breach of the duty of care. It is no excuse to say that it is  difficult to give these warnings to 200 soldiers deploying to Kenya.  If the safeguards cannot be fitted into the system it is the system that should have been changed. The safety of our service men and women must come first.

 

Philippa Tuckman

 

Philippa is a partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd and a specialist in military negligence claims.  For more information about Philippa’s work or to contact her direct see her profile at https://hmsolicitors.co.uk/who-we-are/our-team/philippa-tuckman/.