Former Soldiers Used In Drug Trial With Devastating Consequences

Former soldiers broke down at the inquiry saying the drug has ruined their lives.

There are calls for a Royal Commission after 5000 former military personnel took part in an anti-malaria drug trial they said had devastating consequences and destroyed their lives.

At a Senate inquiry in Brisbane on Thursday, former soldiers broke down claiming the drug, mefloquine, caused side effects including depression, severe memory loss and violent shaking, among other things, that they continue to suffer today.

The Defence Force Welfare Association said those deploying in the late 80s and 90s, were not given adequate information and pressured into being part of the trial.

Former soldier Mark Armstrong told the inquiry he volunteered to take the drug and now has trouble finishing sentences and remembering names.

" I forget my wife's names and my children's names," Armstrong said.

He said at the time, it was often a mentality case of ‘take this drug or don’t go overseas’.

He said he asked for the drug and said didn’t want compensation but a solution, after living with the guilt of failing his family.

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But former army major Stuart McCarthy who served in East Timor and Bourgainville believes soldiers were tricked into taking the medication.

"They did not have a choice. You quote unquote 'volunteer' for this drug trial or you are not going on this deployment," he told the inquiry.

"I believe there has been extensive evidence of criminal misconduct involving senior defence force officials," McCarthy later told Ten Eyewitness News.

What Help Is Available?

The struggle with complications from anti-malaria drugs is that there isn't a single way to detect secondary illnesses.

"While there is no specific way to diagnose the long-term effects of mefloquine and no specific treatment, other than to treat presenting symptoms, these guidelines outline a commonsense approach to the management of individuals who are concerned their current problems may be caused by mefloquine use in the ADF," The Department of Veteran's Affairs (DVA) website states.

Table of illnesses that could be caused by mefloquine or tafenoquine. Image: Department of Veteran's Affairs.

There are a number of ways that veterans can access help and services for their mefloquine or tafenoquine- related illnesses. Assessments of the illnesses and causes are available for cover under Medicare. There are also mental health treatments accessible to most veterans and an over-the-phone counselling service.

There are a some online tools that have information that are available to veterans as well. These provide information about mental health illness and condition management.

Current or former members of the ADF are also able to lodge a claim with the DVA if they have a medical condition they believe relates to mefloquine or tafenoquine.

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