State facing drug compensation claims

17 April 2011

The state is facing compensation claims from 17 former soldiers who were prescribed the controversial anti-malaria drug Lariam while serving in Africa with the UN.

Several of the soldiers claim that they were given the drug even though their army medical files indicated it was unsuitable for them.

The first of the 17 claims has gone through a preliminary assessment, and the others are due to be submitted in coming weeks, according to the soldiers’ solicitor, Pat McGonagle.

Meanwhile, the Defence Forces have confirmed that ten serving soldiers have been linked to possible side-effects of Lariam, and are undergoing treatment and medical monitoring.

Several thousand Irish soldiers going on overseas deployments in Liberia and Chad were prescribed Lariam, which has been linked to neuropsychiatric side-effects, brain damage and motor-neurone disorders.

The US army has banned the use of the drug for its troops since 2009. In a joint statement, the Defence Forces and Department of Defence said that the health and wellbeing of personnel was ‘‘a priority for the Defence Forces, both at home and overseas’’.

The department said that soldiers going to malarial areas were screened for suitability for a selected anti-malarial drug in line with Irish Medical Board guidelines. ‘‘This typically involves review of the individual’s previous experience, if any, with the medication.

The individual’s medical history is also screened for those conditions which have been identified as precipitating serious side-effects in association with the medication,” the department said.

‘‘Personnel are screened both before and after deployments, and all necessary actions are taken to ensure that those with contra-indications to Lariam use are deemed unsuitable for overseas service and are not prescribed the medication.”

The chief medical officer of the Defence Forces, Colonel Gerry Kerr, who has a postgraduate diploma in tropical medicine from the Royal College of Surgeons, backed the continued use of Lariam when he reviewed the drug’s use in mid-2010,The Sunday Business Post has learned. Colonel Kerr was not available for interview.

A senior US army doctor who has written research into the use of Lariam by soldiers, Major Remington Nevin, told the Sunday Business Post that he expressed his reservations over the continued use of Lariam to Colonel Kerr at a conference in Florida last year.

Major Nevin said that the drug was generally unsuitable for use by armed forces.

Lariam’s manufacturer, drug firm Roche, said its chief priority was patient welfare.

The company said it could not comment on whether an individual or group was entitled to seek compensation from the state arising from the use of any medicine.

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