Recent articles in the media are bringing to light a controversial drug that has repeatedly been administered to Canada’s military in spite of profound side effects. Mefloquine, an antimalarial drug developed as an inexpensive option to protect against malaria, brought with it devastating side effects, most notably psychological effects similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other long term and sometimes permanent side effects such as dizziness, insomnia, seizures, and psychiatric reactions have been reported.
Mefloquine was first issued as an unlicensed drug to 900 Canadians soldiers in the 1992-93 Somalia mission, as part of a clinical study. Canadian Armed Forces deployed to Rwanda in 1994 were also required to take mefloquine. Side effects from the drug began within weeks of being issued the drug, and symptoms progressed and worsened with continuous use. In 1999, the federal Auditor-General issued a report indicating the Department of National Defence had improperly prescribed mefloquine and failed to track soldiers’ side effects as required by the clinical study. Yet, in spite of the critical report and lack of adequate research on mefloquine, according to the Department of National Defence, an additional 15,677 Canadian soldiers received the drug between 2001 and 2012.
The Canadian Forces used mefloquine on recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada, although PHAC admitted long-term neuropsychological effects had not be confirmed. There are other antimalarial drugs available that have fewer side effects than mefloquine, however Canadian soldiers continue to be given mefloquine at a rate five times that of American soldiers. Other allied countries that have seen the effects of mefloquine have ceased prescribing the drug to their military personnel. Health Canada has since agreed that mefloquine can cause serious psychological impairment and permanent brain damage, yet the drug continues to be used on our military.
The Royal Canadian Legion is distressed at the lack of research on this controversial drug and its continued impact on the health, diagnosis and treatment of Veterans who were prescribed mefloquine. The Legion recently sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs urging the Government to undertake research into mefloquine and its side effects, and ensure those who were given the drug are aware of the potential side effects and receive the proper diagnosis and care they deserve. Read our letter to the Ministers.
In the interest of all Veterans, those impacted by mefloquine, and those still serving who stand ready to answer the call of duty, the Legion calls on the Department of National Defence to immediately cease the use of mefloquine for Canada’s serving men and women while this issue is under investigation.