At least 10 Irish soldiers who served in Chad and the Central African Republic are taking legal action over claims they developed serious side-effects as a consequence of taking the anti-malaria drug Lariam including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and paranoia.
The Department of Defence has set aside more than €6m this year to deal with compensation claims from serving and former members of the Defence Forces in relation to Lariam and other accidents and mishaps, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In the Dail, Defence Minister Alan Shatter confirmed that legal proceedings had begun in four claims against the Army over the use of the controversial drug. However, the Sunday Independent has learned that at least another six cases are in the pipeline.
Some of the soldiers in the process of initiating claims and who have reported suicidal thoughts are currently receiving counselling while others are being treated with anti-depressant medication, according to solicitor Killian Carty who is representing a number of the soldiers.
He told the Sunday Independent: "This is not an army deafness scenario or anything like it but there are a small number of soldiers who are affected. All were working in the malaria zone and all were given the anti-malarial drug Lariam. Most had done a number of tours overseas. As far as we can ascertain, they were not given an option about which anti-malarial drug they would take before embarking on a foreign tour of duty.
"They will say that they developed psychological problems after taking the drug. None had a previous history of problems and there was then a sudden onset of severe difficulties. Their behaviour changed. Some suffered night terrors and started displaying behaviour outside the norm. Some subsequently had the medication changed while they were still on active duty. Others did not," he added.
Lariam is authorised for use by the Irish Medicines Board. The Department of Defence said earlier this year that while some risks associated with its use were highlighted in drug safety bulletins in 1996 and 2003, the Irish Medicines Board remained of the view that the benefit-risk profile for the product remained acceptable.
The department says it takes a number of safeguards to protect soldiers, such as screening all personnel who received the drug for medical suitability. Members of the Defence Forces who have certain conditions, such as depression, anxiety and neuro-degenerative disorders, are not allowed to travel on duty overseas.