U.S. Government Officials Scramble
Just nine days after Staff Sgt. Robert Bale’s shooting in Afghanistan, a Top-Level Pentagon Health Official orders a widespread, emergency review of the military’s use of a notorious anti-malaria drug called mefloquine.
Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, has severe psychiatric side effects. Side effects of the drug include psychotic behavior, paranoia and hallucinations. The drug has been implicated in numerous suicides and homicides, including deaths in the U.S. military. For years the military has used the weekly pill to help prevent malaria among deployed troops.
The U.S. Army nearly stopped the use of mefloquine entirely in 2009 because of the dangers, now only using it in limited circumstances, including sometimes in Afghanistan. In 2009 the Army said soldiers who have suffered a traumatic brain injury should not be given the drug.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of murdering 17 of men, women and children suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq in 2010 during his third combat tour. According to statistics, repeated combat tours severely increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Staff Sgt. Bales’ wife, Karilyn Bales, broke her silence in an interview Sunday with NBC. “It is unbelievable to me. I have no idea what happened, but he would not — he loves children. He would not do that,” she said.
On March 20, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson ordered a new & urgent review to make sure that troops were not getting the drug inappropriately. The task order from Woodson, orders an immediate “review of mefloquine prescribing practices” to be completed by the following Monday, six days after the order was issued.
“Some deployed service members may be prescribed mefloquine for malaria prophylaxis without appropriate documentation in their medical records and without proper screening for contraindications,” the order says. It notes that this review must include troops at “deployed locations.”
The sudden violence and apparent cognitive problems related to the crime Bales is accused of mirrors other gruesome cases.
A former Army psychiatrist who was the top advocate for mental health at the Office of the Army Surgeon General recently voiced concern about Bales’ possible mefloquine exposure. “One obvious question to consider is whether he was on mefloquine (Lariam), an anti-malarial medication.” This drug is still used in Afghanistan.
“This medication has been increasingly associated with neuropsychiatric side effects, including depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.”
In 2004 in the United Press International stated that use of the drug by six elite Army Special Forces soldiers who took mefloquine then committed suicide. (Suicide is relatively infrequent among Special Forces soldiers).
“You’re ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly,” said one Special Forces soldier diagnosed with permanent brain damage from Lariam. “It’s just a sudden thought; it’s the right thing to do. You’ll get a mental picture, and it’s in full color.”
UPI report showed how mefloquine use was a factor in half of the suicides among troops in Iraq in 2003 -– and how suicides dropped by 50 percent after the Army stopped handing out the drug.
In a case that mirrors the Bales’ case, that year the Army dropped charges against Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany. Pogany had been the first soldier since Vietnam charged with cowardice. Like Bales, Pogany faced a possible death sentence. The Army dropped the charges after doctors determined that Pogany suffered from Lariam toxicity, which affected his behavior in Iraq.
In 2002, three elite soldiers, who took mefloquine in Afghanistan, returned to murder their wives and then commit suicide. These soldiers were described by friends, family and neighbors after taking the drug as incoherent, strange and angry.
What Does This Mean For Staff Sgt. Robert Bales
Does this mean, Bales’ charges will be dropped like that of Pogany’s? Does Bales’ suffer from a Lariam toxicity? Something affected his behavior that very day. He was pushed to a limit of no return. Was it the Four tours he served or was it the Lariam?
I certainly hope the truth comes out and this soldier gets the help he needs. Giving him the death penalty will not solve the problem. This is not the first case of homicide or suicide among our soldiers. What you read above is evidence that this is a reoccurring problem and this problem needs to be fixed.
I’m John R. Salkowski, Founder of AchieveSuccessAcademy.com, Retired Police Officer, Survivor of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) stemming from a shoot and kill Robbery incident, Author, Speaker on Leadership, Success and Overcoming Adversity.