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Lariam (generic name: mefloquine hydrochloride) has been linked to serious psychiatric side effects including suicide, aggression and long term mental problems. Lariam is a popular malaria prevention drug prescribed to thousands of U.S. travelers and military personnel as well as soldiers in Australia and the UK.
Roche, the manufacturer of Lariam, has sent notices to doctors and other health-care professionals warning of the risk of suicide. The warnings come after new questions were raised about Lariam after army investigators said that they would examine whether the drug was one factor in a series of widely publicized murders and suicides by soldiers this summer in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Roche changed the drug’s label and official product information to acknowledge “rare cases of suicidal ideation and suicide have been reported.” Now it plans to publicize the move by sending written notices to thousands of doctors around the U.S.
“If symptoms of acute anxiety, depression and confusion occur,” the new label says, they could lead “to a more serious event.” In such case, patients should quit the drug and take another malaria medicine.
Lariam, which has been prescribed to 25 million people world-wide since its introduction in 1985, is one of the most effective prevention treatments for malaria, one of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Lariam as the drug standard in 79 countries where malaria is resistant to other drugs. Developed by the U.S. army and later licensed to Roche, the drug was first tested and used primarily among the military. But it has grown popular with many U.S. tourists to increasingly trendy Third World destinations, as well as with Peace Corps volunteers and aid workers.