Minnesota TV Station investigative report on anti-malarial drug Mefloquine: "A hidden epidemic"

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Minnesota TV Station investigative report on anti-malarial drug Mefloquine: "A hidden epidemic"

Let me start this with a caveat....I'm not a doctor (of medicine anyway) and it would be impossible for me to ascribe any issues I have now medically with any drug taken 10 years ago.  Maybe my hypervigilance is from the drug, more likely it's from the same place everyone else who served in a combat zone gets their hypervigilance.  But there are a few things I *DO* know.  One is that every person in my unit in 2004-2005 was ordered to take Mefloquine.  Every person I talked to at the time had wildly psychadelic dreams, and many of us even more odd side effects.  My battle buddy didn't sleep for 3 days after taking his first one, and chain watched seasons of CSI on DVD before waking me up at like 2am to tell me he was switching majors from Wood Science (yes, that's a thing) to some sort of science major to study crime scenes.  Another thing I know is that somewhere spread across the Afghan landscape are 51 Mefloquine tablets, because after that first dose I decided that Malaria was better than the side effects I was having*.

Now, to their credit, our medics and doctors offered us Doxycyline, but that causes a sensitivity to sun, which is bad because I am as pale as Casper the Ghost to begin with, and burn under candlelight.  Which for an Infantryman spending 65 percent of his time outdoors is suboptimal.  I just felt that after what I went through with one dose of the Meflaquine that I was better off taking my chances.  The Army might have disagreed with me on that point, but I decided not to give them that chance.

But I will say that some of these Mefloquine stories ring true to me.  The first story I heard about it had really fired up some people, and justifiably so, given the nature of the story, but I maintain I actually believe this guy's defense, which is strange given that I generally don't believe many defenses:

The first U.S. soldier charged with cowardice since the Vietnam War is suffering from damage to his brainstem that likely was caused by the anti-malaria drug he was given in Iraq, a military doctor has concluded.

Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany was diagnosed this week with "likely Lariam toxicity," according to medical records from Naval Medical Center San Diego reviewed by United Press International.

Pogany suffered a panic attack in Iraq last year after seeing a dead body and was charged by the Army with cowardice, an offense punishable by death and a charge not seen since the Vietnam era, which ended almost 30 years ago. The charge later was reduced to dereliction of duty.

For months Pogany has been caught in legal and medical limbo, waiting for the Army to pursue charges against him and evaluate a list of mental and physical symptoms that started when he took Lariam in Iraq.

Pogany's tests this week showed eye and ear abnormalities and balance problems consistent with reported side effects of the drug, the medical records state. He is one of 10 servicemembers diagnosed in the past few weeks with damage to the brainstem and vestibular, or balance, system after being given the drug while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. His case is the most notable so far, because "panic attack" is listed as a Lariam side effect. Lariam is generically known as mefloquine; Pogany took the generic form.

Anyway, opinions on the Pogany case are bound to run the gamut, but all I know is that the drug made me have some really bizarre moments for that first week.  Mind you, I didn't run away or anything like Pogany, but still, very bizarre out-of-character thoughts were running through my head.

Flash forward to now, where KSTP News out of Minneapolis has been investigating because of the experience of one of their local veterans:

Again, I'm not a doctor, and I don't know whether this stuff actually causes long term damage or not.  All I know is that when I took it, it was bad news.  I'm guessing some of you reading this can add your own Meflaquine horror story.

(*And yes, I know it wasn't a good idea to tempt Malaria.  But at the time I was willing to take the lesser likely effect over the more immediate one.)

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.