23 March 2008

Lariam on the loose

This is from an FDA publication in 2003:

Consumer Guide for Malaria Drug

A new medication guide provides better information to consumers about the risks and benefits of Lariam (mefloquine hydrochloride), a drug that helps to prevent malaria.

Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says, "Lariam can work in certain areas where malaria is resistant to other drugs, and it offers several other advantages, including its once weekly dosing, the ability to use it in children, and the fact that it does not sensitize people to sunlight."

But in rare instances, Lariam has been associated with serious psychiatric problems. The Lariam medication guide instructs people who experience a sudden onset of certain adverse events--anxiety, depression, restlessness, or confusion--to contact a doctor or other health care provider because it may be necessary to stop taking Lariam and use another malaria prevention medicine. Sometimes these adverse events may persist even after stopping the medication. Rare reports have claimed that some Lariam users think about killing themselves. There have been rarer reports of suicides, but the FDA does not know if Lariam use was related to these suicides.

The medication guide highlights the risks of malaria and provides information on how to recognize psychiatric risks. It also gives other important facts, including how the drug should be taken and a list of the most common side effects, such as bad dreams, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and vomiting.

The FDA and Lariam's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals of Nutley, N.J., developed the medication guide, which should be given with each Lariam prescription filled.

What they don't tell you in this sketchy little blurb, amongst the "rare" and "rarer" and "psychiatric risks" is that one of the dangers of taking this drug is getting permanent brain lesions from it. And these lesions can affect people in wildly different but rarely positive ways. This ain't no shock treatment. This is your brain on drugs.


There's an excellent cover story by Joel Warner in this week's Westword in which Lariam is featured. I'm outraged afresh (yep! still paying attention!). I'm pissed that a few hundred to a couple of thousand people, maybe more over time, will read that cover story (I sure hope it's more than that, but realistically, I doubt it), and a few hundred or thousand will see the documentary "Taken as Directed." I just want to, as I told my sweetie just now, "shout it from the roooooooftooooops!" I can't stand that this is happening and that people like Andrew Pogany are getting the bum's rush from the Army as a result of his efforts to make sure servicepeople are getting the medical attention for injuries sustained during wartime that they deserve. As far as I am concerned, they deserve their Veteran's Administration benefits forever, but that's often not how the military sees things, as you can read in the Westword story.

It just makes me want to write in my novel about the real drug and its real side effects more, instead of making up my own parallel-universe version. (In an earlier beginning to my novel, I had a grandma taking anti-Alzheimer's medication and discovering that the medication had an unexpected side effect of inducing spontaneous and unpredictable orgasms, but that got too distracting. Hollywood would probably eat that one up.) In my understanding of the legality of discussing true events or entities in the roman a clef literary form, as long as I say it's fiction, I never have to say I'm sorry.

My goal is to show how a public health disaster is made possible from many sides: from the pharmacists to the doctors to the drug reps to the drug analysts to the drug marketers to the people who trade drug stocks to the people who take the drugs and the people who have to help those who have taken the drugs recover from the side effects of said drugs. Because it's all true, and if you spent 100 hours researching this, you too would be this outraged.

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