|Former soldiers, families face military officials in Townsville over anti-malaria drug side effects|
The military's top brass has come face to face with former soldiers and their families suffering depression and anxiety after being fed controversial anti-malaria drugs on deployment
A forum has been held in Townsville, in north Queensland, to give former soldiers, ex-service organisations and health professional the chance to discuss the effects of anti-malaria medication Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, as well as the drug Tafenoquine.
Nearly 2,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were prescribed Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, primarily in East Timor, between July 2000 and June 2005.
The drug is known to cause agitation, mood swings, panic attacks, confusion, hallucinations, aggression, psychosis and suicidal thoughts in a small number of patients.
Another 492 took Tafenoquine as part of a trial in 2000 and 2001.
Lavina Salter, the organiser of the Townsville forum fought back tears as she recounted her husband's mental health issues after taking Mefloquine in the early 2000s.
"The man I married died a long time ago," Ms Salter said.
"There is no sign on his head saying 'I'm depressed'. Some nights I cried myself to sleep not knowing what to do.
"I would go to the hospital everyday to see him. I'd cry so much on the way home I'd have to pull over because I couldn't see the road through my tears.
"Our kids can't sneak up behind him. I dread the day they find out he's attempted suicide more times than I can count on my hand."
'It's always a balancing act when we're looking at drug like this'
Surgeon General of the ADF, Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, said 63 members contracted malaria between the time the Army entered East Timor in 1999 and when the trials started.
"The drugs we were using weren't working," she said.
She acknowledged the military knew the medication could cause side effects but assumed they would not be chronic.
"Back when we were doing the trial in Timor there was an understanding that some people may have side effects, people were told about those side effects and told to stop the medication if they were getting those side effects."
"It's always a balancing act when we're looking at drug like this because first and foremost we want to protect our people from malaria. That's a disease that kills people around the world everyday," she said.
But Dr Remington Nevin, a leading expert on Mefloquine and Tafenoquine, told the audience via Skype that the side effects were "trivialised" and "minimised" when soldiers signed up for the trial.
"As time has gone by there has been more evidence that there has been long time effects," Air Vice-Marshal Smart said.
"What we're trying to do is be as transparent as possible, put all of our cards on the table."
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