Was Staff Sergeant Shooter On Dangerous Malaria Drug?

Few remember the grisly summer of 2002 when four Fort Bragg soldiers’ wives were murdered within six weeks of each other and the malaria drug, Lariam, widely prescribed to troops deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, was suspected as a factor.

Few also probably remember the case of Andrew Pogany, a staff sergeant who volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2003, but was sent back to Fort Carson after  experiencing PTSD-like panic symptoms and hallucinations related to violence in theater. He and his attorney were later able to prove his reaction was a probable effect of Lariam. Pogany went on to help other soldiers who have experienced extreme PTSD and/or drug responses.

Troops who have used Lariam blame the drug for nightmares, depression, paranoia, auditory hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms including complete mental breakdowns, says the Associated Press. Family members have blamed for their loved ones’ suicides. The effects of Lariam can last for “weeks,
months, and even years,” after it’s stopped, warns the VA. The drug “should not be given to anyone with symptoms of a brain injury, depression or anxiety disorder,” reported Army Times, which describes “many troops who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Yet even though the Air Force bans pilots from using Lariam, and the Army is substituting a safer drug, the Navy and Marine Corps have actually increased prescriptions for Lariam the Associated Press reported last year. And, “numbers could be higher still because prescriptions filled overseas are frequently not counted.”

A seventeen-year marine veteran who had deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan developed extreme PTSD while serving in Afghanistan in 2009, possibly heightened by the Lariam he told his wife that he was being given. “He went from being loving on the phone, to saying he never wanted to see me and our daughter again,” she said in an interview. “He said not to even bother coming to the airport to meet him, because he would walk right past us.” When the couple did reunite, her husband was frail and thin, and “the whites of his eyes were brown,” says the wife. The formerly competent drill instructor became increasingly unpredictable, suicidal, and violent and was incarcerated in the brig at Camp Lejeune for assault in 2011.

In her nonfiction book, Murder in Baker Company, Cilla McCain also asks whether the use of Lariam might explain or partially explain the brutal actions of the soldiers accused in the death of Army Specialist Richard Davis.

Is it a stretch to ask whether the unnamed staff sergeant who allegedly crept into three houses and murdered men, women and children was under the influence of Lariam? A drug with a violent history of its own?

Martha Rosenberg’s first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, will be published by Prometheus Books next year

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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