A Saskatchewan veteran who served in the military is speaking out about his experience with the anti-malarial drug mefloquine.
Mefloquine is a drug prescribed to Canadian soldiers when deployed to zones known to have the malaria disease.
Dave Bona was administered the drug during the 1990s for two separate deployments to Somalia and Rwanda.
When he returned to Canada, he wasn’t the same.
“Why are they still issuing this drug? It makes no sense. It’s almost as if they actually don’t care about their soldiers,” Bona said.
“The only driving factor is cost. This is the cheapest drug out there.”
In 2013, a boxed warning was added to the label of the drug by the Food and Drug Administration, citing “neurologic and psychiatric side effects” associated with its use.
Dr. Remington Nevin, an anti-malarial medication expert based in Baltimore, Md., said during Bona’s deployment, soldiers weren’t properly briefed on the effects mefloquine had.
“It’s very disappointing that Canadian Forces soldiers received no warnings; no education at all about the important safety information that was necessary to follow,” he said.
“U.S. soldiers at least in theory, received a copy of the approved product insert describing under what conditions they should stop taking the drug, such as symptoms of anxiety, depression, and restlessness.”
“Canadian soldiers received no such warnings.”
Nevin added that the drug can cause brain damage, and has symptoms that may include insomnia, nightmares, depression, to even more severe side effects such as panic attacks, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts.
Dr. Andrew Currie, head of the Communicable Disease Control Program with the Canadian Armed Forces, denies that there is any evidence that links permanent brain damage to the drug.
“I think I echo those of us who provide care to our members, that it’s important that we understand the symptomatology and look out for the health of our members,” he said.
“When you read the scientific literature, and we’re talking about millions of doses of mefloquine, there’s nothing in the evidence that links permanent brain damage with use of mefloquine.”
Bona doesn’t understand how the military can continue giving the drug to its soldiers after the negative side effects he, and other veterans, experienced while on the drug.
He remembered that on the first day they were required to take mefloquine, everyone’s behaviour changed.
“It was like a horror show. The screaming, the yelling, guys getting up walking out of their tents; everyone was having the vivid dreams,” he recalled.
“As that tour progressed, who I was started to evaporate.”
He still suffers from symptoms. He believes the drug caused abdominal problems, vertigo, dizziness, and occasional episodes of “insane anger.”
“At times it’s like another person has dropped into our life,” his wife, Teresa Untereiner, said.
“It’s not Dave. His behaviour, his personality, changed.”
“Physiologically he changed as well too.”