The attorney for a U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians in 2012 says his client took an anti-malaria medication used for years by the U.S. military before carrying out the mass murder. The drug has been linked to psychiatric problems that could serve as a defense for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales during a sentencing hearing next month, during which jurors will decide whether Bales should receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole or be eligible for consideration to be released from prison.
Mefloquine is a drug used to prevent malaria or treat mild to moderate acute malaria. For many years, the U.S. military has used the drug on troops stationed in areas where infection can occur. Civilians traveling to tropical regions are also sometimes given the medication as a precaution.
This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety communication that a new black box warning would be added to the drug, Mefloquine, that alerts users the medication can cause neurologic or psychiatric side effects that may persist or become permanent.
Neurologic side effects include dizziness, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. The psychiatric side effects include feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed, or having hallucinations.
Mefloquine was previously marketed under the brand name Lariam, however the brand name drug is no longer available. Generic mefloquine is currently available in the U.S.
The FDA is advising patients, caregivers, and health care professionals to watch for neurological or psychiatric side effects in people who are taking Mefloquine to prevent malaria. If someone using the drug develops these symptoms, the prescribing doctor should be immediately notified.