75 soldiers suing over anti-malaria drug Lariam
The State could be forced to introduce a multi-million euro redress scheme for Defence Forces personnel given the controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam amid a mounting number of High Court lawsuits.
Five personal injury actions were issued against the Minister for Defence on Wednesday for negligence and breach of duty towards former soldiers who allege they suffered serious side effects after being given the drug on overseas missions.
The Irish Independent has learned the law firm representing the complainants, Coleman Legal Partners, has instructions to issue 75 sets of proceedings.
The firm says it has 350 clients affected by Lariam.
Many of the cases raise issues about the manner in which the drug was prescribed.
It is alleged to have been issued in a "conveyor belt" manner for a considerable period, without in-depth individual consultations.
The litigants are represented by solicitor Norman Spicer, a former Defence Forces member who experienced adverse side effects after being administered Lariam while serving in Chad.
"I believe it to have been administered in such a way that falls below standards which one might expect to receive. A lot of the soldiers I have been speaking to have suffered very badly," said Mr Spicer.
In one of the cases, a former female Defence Forces member alleges she suffered from suicidal thoughts, had to seek psychiatric treatment and now has difficulty securing and maintaining full-time employment.
She also says she experienced headaches, paranoia, aggressive behaviour, insomnia, depression, dizzy spells and vertigo.
Lariam was given to her during three tours in malarial regions.
The Department of Defence declined to say whether any consideration was being given to a redress scheme and said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases or legal strategies.
It also would not clarify whether changes had been made in recent years to the manner in which Defence Forces members are assessed in terms of suitability to receive Lariam.
In a statement, it said Lariam was one of three anti-malarial drugs in use in the Defence Forces. It said "significant precautions" were taken by medical officers in assessing the suitability of individuals to take any anti-malarial medication and that personnel were individually screened.