The soldier accused in the murder of 17 Afghan villagers may have exhibited psychotic behavior consistent with the anti-malarial drug Lariam, a former top Army psychiatrist says.
Elspeth Ritchie, a former top Army psychiatrist, speculated the otherwise affable Staff. Sgt. Robert Bales suffered a psychotic episode, and she questioned whether he was on Mefloquine, also called Lariam.
Ritchie, in Time magazine’s Battleland blog, also asked what other drugs he could have been on. “I have no indications that he was on illicit drugs. But these are always factors to consider. If he were, that could explain his behavior, which has puzzled so many of us.”
Lariam has severe psychiatric side effects, the Huffington Post reports. Problems include psychotic behavior, paranoia and hallucinations. The drug has been implicated in numerous suicides and homicides, including deaths in the U.S. military. For years the military has used the weekly pill to help prevent malaria among deployed troops.
In 2009, the Army announced it was dropping Larium as its primary anti-malarial in favor of doxycycline, a generic antibiotic. In the past, the military have used mefloquine, in spite of the risks, because troops have to take it only once a week, while doxycycline must be taken daily. And in some areas, the malaria parasite has become resistant to doxycycline.
Bales’ attorney John Henry Browne told the PBS NewsHour he was interested in learning what medications his client was taking at the time of the shootings.
“We have to order his medical records, and they haven’t given them to us yet,” he said. “He was taking medications, but we don’t know whether it was aspirin, heart medicines. We don’t know what it was.”
The HuffPo report said the Defense Department had ordered an emergency review of the military’s use of Lariam. However, a Pentagon spokesman said this review was ordered months earlier and had “absolutely no connection to the ongoing case or investigation into the actions for which Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged.”