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The Military Medicine United States Technology

Army Reviews Controversial Drug After Afghan Massacre 195

Hugh Pickens writes "Time Magazine reports that after the massacre in which Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed 17 civilians in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has ordered an urgent review of the use of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, also known as Lariam, known to have severe psychiatric side effects including psychotic behavior, paranoia and hallucinations. 'One obvious question to consider is whether he was on mefloquine (Lariam), an anti-malarial medication,' writes Elspeth Cameron Ritchie in Time. 'This medication has been increasingly associated with neuropsychiatric side effects, including depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.' The drug has been implicated in numerous suicides and homicides, including deaths in the U.S. military. For years the military used the weekly pill to help prevent malaria among deployed troops, however in 2009 the U.S. Army nearly dropped use of mefloquine entirely because of the dangers, using it only in limited circumstances, including sometimes in Afghanistan. Army and Pentagon officials would not say whether Bales took the drug, citing privacy rules. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson has ordered a new, urgent review to make sure that troops were not getting the drug inappropriately. 'Some deployed service members may be prescribed mefloquine (PDF) 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.'"
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Army Reviews Controversial Drug After Afghan Massacre

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  • Obviously it's pure speculation, but I have a hard time believing this would mitigate any punishment Bales receives. It would be a nightmare of the most extreme order for the military should Bales be exculpated, even in the most limited sense. The Afghans have been screaming for him to be tried under Afghan law. It would be hard enough to punishment short of the death penalty to the Afghan public, much less an outcome that ends with him in psychiatric care first. This is just one more massive headache in a case that can't be over for the Pentagon fast enough.

    In the mean time, expect relations to continue to deteriorate between Afghan security forces and ISAF troops. There is real danger of this review fueling conspiracy theories and sparking further knife-in-the-back attacks on ISAF troops like we've already seen.

    It increasingly seems that no one is winning from this war. Afghan civilians have had any sense that westerners provide safety shattered. Westerners trust their Afghan counterparts even less. And yet most of Afghan development depends on the industry that supports the international presence there, which a hasty pull-out would destroy. What's the least bad option here?
  • Scapegoat (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Atheose ( 932144 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @10:56AM (#39522823)
    This sounds like it will be a easy scapegoat for the entire massacre, rather than the fact that the individual was responsible, or the military in general.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @10:58AM (#39522845)

    So I guess chemistry and biology aren't technologies anymore...

  • by Moheeheeko ( 1682914 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:03AM (#39522897)
    Agreed. Also, how does somone shoot 1 person without the rest of the village getting the fuck out of Dodge? Something in the "Official" story doesnt add up.
  • Nasty stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ion Berkley ( 35404 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:06AM (#39522931)

    I can attest to this drugs potency, I've used it on two instances, and on one I suffered mightily the day and night after I took my weekly dose. Another of my friends was hospitalized after a psychotic episode on this drug. A girl I used to date used this drug for 2+ years during a posting to Sierra Leone in the military, apparently without any long term effect...but well beyond any duration it had been certified and tested for...however the flip side is that the initial brigade that was sent to Sierra Leone in a hurry were not on an anti-malarial and a large number came down with serious Malaria. Luckily there are much better alternatives in 2012, and I think it's somewhat weak to see this in the press...if it's being doled out to troops in this environment still then that is wrong and someone should get on it now, but this tabloid journalism and new culture of Mil/Gov leaks to the worthless press is ridiculous. Solve the friggin' problem, don't play some political game of buck passing in the headlines

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:12AM (#39523005)

    US soldier goes on psychotic killing spree on civilians, the US Army evacuates that soldier to their country and the US government refuses to let this psycho face the law.

    Compare and contrast to someone on non-US soil doing something not illegal and doing no damage. For five years the US government will INSIST that this person is extradited to face justice.

    WORSE, the UK government lets them.

    Possibly in case the US army personnel go psycho nutcase in the UK and spirited away.

    (it's sort of the opposite of extraordinary rendition)

  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:24AM (#39523159)
    'natural state' is meaningless, humans are part of nature.
  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:27AM (#39523191)
    *nods* politically they have to punish him, though it would not be the first time the US has quietly let a citizen off the hook when a weak forign government screams bloody murder.

    The bigger problem, if this medication played a role, is going to be the drug company. There have been numerous cases where a psychotic incident involving murder has been plausibly linked to a medication, but they have never survived court since drug companies do NOT want that kind of liability, so they fight tooth and nail.. and to be blunt, the medical industry is a lot stronger then the federal government. So it is very unlikely we will ever see a court approved link between this medication and a murder.
  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @11:33AM (#39523257) Journal

    It increasingly seems that no one is winning from this war.

    Increasingly? It was obvious from the start that this was a fool's errand. Afghanistan isn't called the graveyard of empires for no reason.

    Just to put some perspective on this, Bales allegedly killed 17 civilians. NATO killed 410 civilians last year. If it took 10 such massacres to get us out of Afghanistan, we'd still be ahead by a factor of 2.

    Bales is no worse than the war mongers keeping us in Afghanistan. At least he potentially has TBI and/or PTSD to blame. Obama has no one to blame but himself for civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

  • Not so fast (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:05PM (#39523605)

    This project has raked billions through the business of government. At the top of the pyramid, the elite who make the decisions do not care where the money comes from or where it goes -- what matters is that it passes through their hands, giving them a chance to exploit that cash flow for personal gain.

    In conclusion, this project has only increased the net worth of the business of government. At the top of the pyramid, that is the entire goal. We know this because the balance sheet doesn't lie, and neither does history.

    You're not in the business of government, are you?

  • by Truekaiser ( 724672 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:05PM (#39523619)

    No. they are looking for excuses other then the obvious reason. hopped up on nearly a decades worth of propaganda of these people being 'evil', and 'against our very way of life' etc him either alone or in a group. since many of the Afghanistan witnesses claim he was not alone. go out and slaughter a bunch of people for the fun of it. they want any reason to dismiss it from being pre-meditated.

    as for why we are there and will continue to be there even in a less active role? we went in to chase out a certain group of people as the public reason. anyone who can read a map would see the country is valuable real estate if say the straight of Hormuz and the Pearson gulf is impassable for trade..

  • Re:Scapegoat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:11PM (#39523689)

    Dude you better check yourself in.

    You've taken this drug, are on /. and believe you have wife. You even have conversations with this 'wife'.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:19PM (#39523799) Homepage Journal

    hahaha. You don't really know the area or the people, do you?

    I don't trust any eye witness reports.
    a) Anti American groups will suddenly have eye witness report of things that didn't happen,. or exaggerate claims
    b) You CAN have psychotic episodes with no memory. Sometime they can go on for very lng periods of time.

    Army cover up?

    I don't know, and neither do you.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:18PM (#39525521) Journal

    Realistically, if you ever want a cure for cancer, a pharma company needs to have some bar they can clear and say "this is enough testing, we can sell it now". Maybe your thinking of other cases where the liability of the company was more clear? When the military is involved it gets even more murky - sometime you knowingly do quite unsafe things in the military after all. Bomber pilots get stim pills that wouldn't be legal for most people (though pretty mild by illegal drug standards), but the danger of those pills is trivial compared to what they're doing while on them.

    This is more a case of "what was the military thinking continuing any use of this drug" than "what was a pharma company thinking continuing to sell it to the military". Not every story needs a corporation as a mustache-twirling villain and a government agency as the shining hero, after all.

  • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:39PM (#39525801) Homepage

    explosivejared sighed:

    It increasingly seems that no one is winning from this war.

    prompting Hatta to respond:

    Increasingly? It was obvious from the start that this was a fool's errand. Afghanistan isn't called the graveyard of empires for no reason.

    Actually, it wasn't obvious at all. The U.S. invasion was welcomed by the majority of Afghans, who were pretty sick of the Taliban's reign of terror. The problem is that the Bush administration, instead of proceeding with the arduous and expensive task of nation-building that would have ensured the Taliban's permanent defeat, opted to turn its attention to invading Iraq. As a result, conditions for the average Afghan did not improve AT ALL under the American occupation, while Pakistan, our nominal ally in the "war on terror", sheltered, trained, equipped, and encouraged the Afghan Taliban to resume guerilla war against the American/NATO occupiers. As that conflict began generating more and more collateral damage, the tide of Afghan opinion turned more and more against the occupying troops, to the point that, today, our forces are nearly as hated as the Soviets were - and the Taliban are once again seen as saviors.

    Obama inherited the Afghan quagmire from the Bush administration - which was responsible for causing it. Should he be persuaded immediately to withdraw all U.S. troops, not only would the Taliban instantly re-take control of Afghanistan, they would wreak horrific retribution against the most westernized sectors of Afghani society (i.e. - the most civilized and tolerant sectors), and plunge the country back into the 14th century hellhole it was before we invaded it in 2001.

    And, not at all incidentally, make it once again a haven for international terrorism, a la September 2001.

    It's a lousy, no-win situation to find ourselves stuck in, but the blame belongs with George W. Bush, not Barack Obama. As with the economy, Obama is merely the janitor, stuck with cleaning up after another one of the frat boy's "Wild Thing" parties.

  • Ratios matter (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erice ( 13380 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:44PM (#39525885) Homepage

    Actually, my wife has just said to me that paracetamol has more documented cases of causing psychosis as a side effect than Lariam...

    Other than pointing out that paracetamol also has potential for psychosis, what does this tell you? Paracetamol is vastly more widely used than Mefloquine. Even if the risk from paracetamol was only 1% of that from mefloquine, you could still see more documented cases of psychosis.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson