Mefloquine, otherwise known as Lariam, is a malarial prophylactic, which has and is currently being issued by the Irish Defence Forces to troops deploying to high-risk malaria regions such as Liberia, Chad and Eritrea.
Although used to prevent the threat of malaria, there are many known side effects of the drug, including, inter alia, depression, anxiety, night terrors, hallucinations, insomnia, aggression, paranoia, short-term memory loss, long-term memory loss, vertigo, suicidal ideation, suicidal behaviour.
The first official Irish mission in which Mefloquine was issued was in Eritrea in 2001 (although the drug was used in a small number of earlier deployments to Somalia). In recent years, International militaries around the world have ceased or at least considerably reduced, the amount of its soldiers taking the drug on overseas missions. For example, in the United States, the United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany, among other countries, the drug has been discontinued from use or made the ‘drug of last resort’.
The Irish Defence Forces however, have stuck to the practice of issuing Lariam on numerous overseas missions, despite the growing evidence that the drug is highly toxic and unsafe. Incredibly, the position of the Defence Forces has still remained unchanged despite the fact that there is no longer a license for the drug in Ireland since 2016. For deployments to Mali, Lariam currently remains the drug of first resort for the Irish Military even though there are other, safer alternatives to Lariam.
One of the other major concerns about the Irish Defence Forces relationship with Lariam is the manner in which the drug has been administered. Many soldiers who have been given the drug claim that they were not screened correctly, if at all, for contraindications before taking the drug. Some were even informed that there would be repercussions should they have refused to take the drug as instructed on a weekly basis for the duration of the trip, and for a month prior to deploying and after returning home.
Approximately 7,000 Irish soldiers are believed to have taken the drug and a number of cases have already been brought before the High Court, which are currently pending. Proceedings have also issued by Coleman Legal on behalf of individuals only in recent weeks.