For decades, the United States military sent its service personnel overseas with medication meant to protect them from foreign pathogens. 

One of the most commonly used substances was Mefloquine, an anti-malarial medication manufactured by F. Hoffman-LaRoche as Lariam. Mefloquine was given to U.S. sailors, soldiers and marines deployed from Afghanistan to Somalia. 

While mefloquine was effective in preventing soldiers from catching malaria, the drug had its downsides—many. Some servicepeople, for instance, suffered serious physical side effects  including irritable bowel syndrome and ringing in the ears, and mental health problems like anxiety, depression, paranoia, vertigo and tremors.

Unfortunately, mefloquine is best-known for its traumatic psychological impact

Even though medical experts around the world knew that mefloquine could cause or exacerbate anxiety, depression, and psychosis, the United States military and its allies continued prescribing it. All the while, troops and veterans continued to suffer.

Some veterans went so far as to say that mefloquine’s effects were worse than the malaria it was meant to prevent. –U.S. Army Doctor.1

Veterans have begun taking action to address the health dangers of Mefloquine. 

If you served in the U.S. Armed Forces and were required to take mefloquine to prevent malaria, you may be entitled to compensation. Justinian & Associates can help you understand your rights, and how much you may be able to claim to assist in your recovery. 

What Mefloquine Is, and What It Does 

Mefloquine is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria. It is marketed under several different trade names, including Lariam, Mephaquin, and Mefliam.

What exactly is Malaria and why is Mefloquine prescribed?

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease endemic to many different countries around the world. Malaria infects hundreds of millions of people annually, and is responsible for about 400,000 deaths per year. 

While malaria does not naturally occur within the United States, it is endemic in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and parts of the Greater Middle-East, including Yemen and Afghanistan.

Malaria parasites enter the body through mosquito bites

Once the malaria pathogen is inside the body, malaria can infect the liver and enter the bloodstream, where it affects the red blood cells. Malaria can cause fever, respiratory problems, organ failure, and death.

There is no vaccine for Malaria

Since there is no vaccine for malaria, drugs like mefloquine must be taken on a semi-regular basis to retain their efficacy. When used for prevention, mefloquine is typically taken at least once per week, starting at least 2 weeks before traveling to an area with malaria transmission risk. 

Mefloquine prevents malarial parasites from making harmful proteins

Mefloquine, and similar classes of drug, works against malarial parasites by interfering with the disease’s ability to contaminate red blood cells.2 Specifically, mefloquine prevents Plasmodium parasites from synthesizing harmful proteins.3

The U.S. Military and Mefloquine 

Lariam and Mefloquine were developed by the military

Lariam, and many other anti-malarial drugs, were developed by military-industrial researchers in the mid-1970s. Scientists had been working on a cure or treatment for malaria throughout the Vietnam War. The conflict in Vietnam produced over 40,000 cases of American troops with malaria.4 Research suggests that malaria felled more soldiers in Vietnam than did bullets, and others estimate that at certain stages in the conflict, up to 1% of all deployed troops were sick

By the war’s end, American servicepeople had reported tens of thousands of cases of malaria and several dozen deaths. 

Mefloquine Use By The Military After the Vietnam War

While the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Vietnam meant soldiers had smaller chances of malaria exposure, researchers continued to work on a treatment. 

Mefloquine was tentatively developed after the end of the war, and put into use in the mid-1980s. It was given in large quantities to servicepeople, from Somalia to Iraq and, later, Afghanistan.

Since mefloquine was developed by and for the military, its side-effects and potential dangers were not subject to the same strict reporting standards as medications released on the civilian market.

In spite of mefloquine’s dangers, the U.S. military continued giving it to troops until 2013. In 2013, U.S. military leadership realized that the risks of Mefloquine outweighed its potential benefits.

The Problems with Mefloquine

Mefloquine, like most prescription medications, may cause side-effects in otherwise healthy people. It can make people feel dizzy, nauseous, or warm. 

However, mefloquine is best-known for its psychological side-effects.5

Many people who take mefloquine report abnormal dreams, including vivid, frightening nightmares; many others experience difficulty sleeping.

Mefloquine may also cause or contribute to: 

  • Psychiatric reactions, such as mood swings, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation. 
  • Memory loss, or memory problems. 
  • Speech problems. 
  • Seizures. 
  • Hearing problems, like tinnitus. 
  • The exacerbation of pre-existing psychiatric conditions¸ such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and psychosis. 

!

The use of anti-malarial drugs like mefloquine has been linked to abrupt suicidal ideation, and suicidal acts, even in people with no prior history of depression.

If you have taken Mefloquine (Lariam) and are experience negative health effects, contact a healthcare professional to discuss your condition.

Holding Mefloquine Manufacturers Responsible For Health Damage to U.S. Veterans

Mefloquine was not just used by the United States military, but by militaries around the world.  And, all over the globe, soldiers who were prescribed mefloquine reported the same set of psychologically devastating effects.

Veterans in several different countries, including the United States, Canada, and Ireland, have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies like Hoffman-Roche. 

One former Navy SEAL told a California court that he was given Lariam in 2003. He immediately began experiencing nightmares, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts.6

Health Researchers Discovered That Mefloquine Leads to Psychological Damage

Academic researchers have documented other instances of mefloquine use leading to trauma, permanent injury, and death. Writing in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Ashley Croft lists several mefloquine-related fatalities

  • A 22-year-old American man who developed a fever, chills, and headache after taking mefloquine. He later died. 
  • A 37-year-old British man who took Lariam in preparation for an overseas trip. He became suddenly depressed, then committed suicide by jumping from a rooftop. 
  • A 33-year-old German national who was hospitalized, then committed suicide.

Mefloquine Manufacturers Did Inadequate Research to Investigate the Harms of Their Product

In spite of an abundance of evidence relating mefloquine use to psychological distress, pharmaceutical companies never carried out intensive clinical studies to uncover their medicines’ potential side-effects. 

While some studies were conducted, their test subjects were soldiers, prisoners, and people living in developing countries. Mefloquine was presumed safe, and reports of psychological problems were widely discarded by manufacturers. 

Mefloquine was used as a “first-line” line drug for malaria prevention up until 2009. 

Tens of thousands of U.S. veterans were prescribed Mefloquine and anti-malarial medications before deploying to theaters of war, including Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Although many veterans did not experience any of mefloquine’s side-effects, others were devastated by the drug’s impact. In some instances, mefloquine-induced depression did not subside after usage ceased, causing veterans to develop long-term mental health problems

Getting Help When Help Is Needed

If you served overseas and began experiencing unusual physical or psychological symptoms after taking mefloquine, you should not have to suffer in silence: you did not have any choice in taking mefloquine, and very likely trusted that the drug’s manufacturer would not have sold an unsafe, potentially deadly product to American troops.

When someone is hurt by another person or company’s negligence, they may be able to claim compensation in a court of law. Justinian & Associates can help you pursue a personal injury complaint, which can compensate you for:

  • Hospital bills 
  • Counseling costs 
  • Lost wages due to illness or treatment
  • Diminished earning potential
  • Emotional pain and suffering

… and more. 

If you or a loved one was injured, you may be legally entitled to money to cover your financial and physical injuries. Speak to a personal injury attorney who is focused on representing U.S. Veterans and can explain the law, discuss your options, and advise you on how to proceed.


[1] ‘Horror movie in a pill’: Side-effects of Lariam worse than malaria, Sinead O’Carroll, The Journal.ie (May 26, 2013) (“Dr Elspeth Ritchie, formerly of the US Army, said the side-effects of Lariam are actually worse than contracting malaria. ‘Aviators are barred from taking Lariam…If aviators are barred, someone who drives a tank and shoots a gun should be precluded too.”)

[2] Mefloquine, University of Michigan Health website, Health Library (12/12/2013).

[3] Mefloquine targets the Plasmodium falciparum 80S ribosome to inhibit protein synthesis. Wong, W., Bai, X.C., Sleebs, B.E., Triglia, T., Brown, A., Thompson, J.K., Jackson, K.E., Hanssen, E., Marapana, D.S., Fernandez, I.S. and Ralph, Nature microbiology, 2(6), pp.1-9 (2017).

[4] Malaria in Wars and Victims, Dr. Bevinje Srinivas Kakkilaya, MalariaSite.com (2015).

[5] Acute and long-term psychiatric side effects of mefloquine: A follow-up on Danish adverse event reports. Petersen, E., Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 20, p.1e9 (2014).

[6] Navy SEAL Sues Roche over Malaria Drug, Claiming it Left Him Permanently Disabled, Patricia Kime, Military.com – Military News (Dec 2018).