Malaria drug defended despite risks

The Department of Defence is continuing to prescribe a controversial malaria drug to personnel serving overseas, despite its manufacturers adding yet another health warning to its use.

Malaria drug defended despite risks

Lariam, which poses a risk of “serious mental health problems” in as many as one in 10 people and can cause heart, digestive, skin, and sight problems, is also being linked to kidney failure.

In an updated patient information leaflet, manufacturers Roche, added as a possible side effect: “Kidney malfunction, failure or infection, causing impairment or cessation of urine formation, infection of the urinary ways, blood in urine.”

It said the frequency of such side effects was unknown.

The State faces 31 compensation claims by serving or former members of the Defence Forces who allege personal injury from taking Lariam, which Roche warns can cause severe anxiety and/or depression in up to one in 10 patients.

It also warns that more than one in 10 patients may suffer sleep problems and between one in 10 and one in 100 may suffer dizziness, vertigo, sight problems, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and itching.

More serious possible side effects, including suicidal thoughts, self-harm, paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations, are also listed but without an estimate of the likely odds of suffering them.

The Department of Defence said medical policy was reviewed on an ongoing basis but it defended the use of Lariam, which has also prompted claims in the US and Britain, saying it can be the most effective protection against malaria in some countries and that all personnel are screened for suitability for the drug.

It said 21 members of the Defence Forces are serving in countries where Lariam is used. Lariam was also in use when more than 1,000 members served in Chad from 2008 to 2010.

When asked about the addition of kidney failure as a possible side effect to Lariam, the department said: “Updates on medications are published regularly on the Health Products Regulatory Authority [HPRA] website to which all prescribing medical officers have access, and such updates are factored into medical policy.”

Up to yesterday, however, the HPRA website still carried the outdated information, dated May 2014, which does not include the warning about possible kidney problems, which was issued in November 2014.


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