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Lariam: 'In a split-second I tried to hang myself'

Lariam tablets Image copyright Science Photo Library

People who have taken the anti-malarial drug Lariam say it should not be available because of its serious side-effects.

Enduring nightmares, changes in personality, and suicidal thoughts have been attributed to the drug.

As well as civilians, it has been prescribed to thousands of army personnel.

Here, two ex-servicemen describe what happened to them after they took Lariam.


Image copyright PA

Anonymous

In 2000, I was sent to Sierra Leone at hours' notice.

After 10 days there, I was given Lariam and told to take a tablet once a week.

I thought it was a bit late, as I was already eaten alive by the mosquitoes and that the damage would have already been done.

Pretty much the next day, I felt something wasn't right - I didn't sleep and I felt dizzy.

As time went on, the feelings got worse.

I didn't get much sleep - but, when I did, I had these weird dreams that felt real.

In one of them, I was speaking to my granddad at the foot of my sleeping bag, even though he was dead.

I felt anxious and nauseous, and was sweating.

I put it down to being frightened because of the situation I was in.

I went to a doctor and had tests for malaria[, which] came back negative.

But I still wasn't feeling OK, so I made another appointment and told the doctor about the strange thoughts I had.

He told me it wasn't PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and to get on with it. I felt stupid.

Suicidal thoughts

When I got home, things got worse.

I felt depressed and threw myself into work.

Then, I felt suicidal and wondered when were these feelings going to stop.

In March 2004, a voice in my head told me: "Go on, do it, just kill yourself."

In a split-second, I tried to hang myself.

I was lucky to be found.

I felt guilt and shame.

It wasn't until last year [that] I talked to my wife about how I was feeling.

In April, I got help though the veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress.

I felt I could talk openly, it gave me a fresh way of thinking, and I did CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).

I understood where the root cause of how I was feeling came from - I didn't have any mental health issues before I took Lariam.

I now know why I attempted suicide, and it wasn't me being weak.

It was good to finally put a label on what was wrong with me.

I am on anti-depressants and the effects of my illness are less.

But I fear there are more soldiers out there who have taken Lariam and won't come forward.


Image copyright SPL

Simon Higgens, Derby

I served 30 years in the Army, and most of my active service was in Africa, so I understand the need to take anti-malaria drugs.

We were taking Paludrine for a while.

In 1995, I was in Angola working with the United Nations in Operation Chantress.

We were deployed at short notice and were given Lariam tablets to take.

After about four to six weeks, I saw myself change and my mental state was different.

I had very bad dreams.

I noticed my interpersonal skills deteriorating

I was confrontational and difficult to be around.

I was hard to communicate with, and I wasn't willing to do anything.

I became the complete opposite of what I am normally.

I spoke to others who took Lariam, and they were feeling the same - there was a lot us.

I decided to come off it as soon as I could.

I saw a medic who said there are side-effects from taking Lariam.

I went back to using Paludrine, and, within days, I was back to normal.

I don't think I have suffered any long-term effects from using Lariam, but I do have to declare that I have used it in the past.


Interviews by Andree Massiah

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