Lariam Side Effects and Your PTSD

If you or a loved one is a veteran with diagnosed or suspected PTSD who also took the anti-malaria medication Lariam, you need to be aware of some recent research that may affect you. There is growing evidence that Lariam side effects may mimic PTSD. That is important because it can affect how these symptoms should be treated and how you prove your VA disability compensation claim.

Who Needs to Be Concerned About Lariam Side Effects?

Lariam is an anti-malaria medication developed by the Department of Defense and later manufactured by the drug company F. Hoffmann-La Roche.  This drug was prescribed to our men and women in uniform to prevent malaria when they were being deployed to regions prone to malaria.  That includes many of those deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), early rotations in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and earlier operations in Somalia and other parts of Africa.

When being used to prevent malaria, servicemembers would take one 250 milligram pill on a weekly basis.  For those who had not taken the prophylactic doses and became infected, the treatment consisted of a single five table dose.  Some soldiers report they have taken hundreds of Lariam dosages over the course of their military careers.

The drug was first used experimentally in the 1970’s.  F. Hoffmann-La Roche did not receive FDA approval for the drug until 1989, although it had been licensed in Europe a few years earlier. The manufacturer then pulled the drug from the market in July 2011 amid concerns about Lariam side effects.

Although the military first began to reduce Lariam usage in 2004, military personnel still received the drug for a number of years.  The U.S. Army continued to administer Lariam to soldiers until 2011, and it is still prescribed in rare circumstances.  In 2013, the FDA issued a “black box” warning – the most serious type of warning issued by the FDA, of potential Lariam side effects.  The drug company still markets Lariam in other countries.

I Have PTSD.  Why Do I Need to Worry About Lariam Side Effects? PTSD magnifying glass

A 2001 study showed 67% of the people in the study experienced more than one adverse side effect from Lariam.  Here are some of the reported Lariam side effects:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • mood changes
  • depression
  • dizziness
  • vertigo
  • bipolar disorder
  • paranoid psychosis
  • hallucinations
  • restlessness
  • confusion
  • short term memory loss
  • suicide.

Sound familiar?  It sounds a lot like PTSD.  That is also the conclusion of researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.  In their study they wrote, “Especially pertinent to the military population, it demonstrates the difficulty in distinguishing from possible mefloquine-induced toxicity versus PTSD, and raises some questions regarding possible linkages between the two diagnoses.”

Lariam Side Effects May Be Long Lasting

Lariam is also known as meflquine hydrochloride.  Researchers have been studying the side effects of mefloquine toxicity, and they are now learning that these side effects may last for years after the person stops taking the drug.  The Walter Reed report mentioned above follows the case of a man who was deployed to East Africa in 2009 and still experiencing Lariam side effects now.

I Have Been Diagnosed with PTSD and Took Lariam.  Can VA Cut Off My VA PTSD Benefits?

Although it could theoretically happen, that is probably not likely.  But, you may want to discuss Lariam side effects with your medical doctors to see if they think you may suffer from mefloquine toxicity.  Behavioral therapies can also help that condition, but there may be some additional treatments suggested if this toxicity is suspected.

Can I Get VA Disability Benefits for My Lariam Side Effects?

If you took mefloquine hydrochloride (Lariam) while in service and are now suffering the effects of that medication, you should be able to prove a service connected disability.  You will simply have to prove an in service event (which would be that you took the drug), have a current disability, and that there is a link between the two.  Your disability and link showing the drug’s effects will require medical evidence.

Here is the good news – I see this as a new avenue for more veterans to receive the VA disability compensation benefits they deserve.  To receive VA benefits for PTSD, you must meet the diagnostic criteria in DSM-5.

Sometimes, veterans find that difficult because they cannot prove an in service stressor that VA deems sufficiently stressful to cause the reported symptoms.  Other times, veterans cannot obtain medical evidence to establish the connection between the symptoms and the stressful events they experienced in service.

In addition, DSM-5 specifically excludes a diagnosis of PTSD if the symptoms can be due to a drug.  Now, you can explore with your doctors whether Lariam caused or contributed to your mental changes and disturbances.  If your doctors support you, you might win service connection for your mental disorder whereas you could not before.

Because the symptoms of mefloquine toxicity often mimic PTSD, they should be rated the same for VA disability purposes.  In other words, a PTSD diagnosis would not gain you a higher VA disability compensation payment than another veteran diagnosed with mefloquine toxicity who had comparable symptoms.

Get the Medical and Legal Help You Need

If you think you suffer from PTSD or Lariam side effects or both, you need to work with your doctors to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.  But, you also need to make sure you receive the VA disability compensation benefits you deserve.

This can be scientifically and legally complex, and it may be difficult to handle on your own.  If you have questions about this latest development in PTSD research and how it affects your VA disability claim, please feel free to contact our office at (770) 214-8885 to schedule a free veterans disability consultation.

Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims.  He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.

You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.

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