Federal Govt launch dedicated support groups for veterans concerned by mefloquine

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The federal government will establish a dedicated support team for current and former ADF personnel who believe they have been damaged by controversial antimalarial drug mefloquine.

The commitment comes after a senate committee called on the Defence Department to provide all who took the drug with access to neurological assessments, full medical reports and ongoing support.

Mefloquine, or Lariam, was first used on up to 2000 ADF personnel during a drug trial in East Timor in 2001-02. It remains the ADF’s third choice anti-malarial despite being banned by the US special forces.

A group of soldiers including Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe the drug scarred them with anxiety attacks, vertigo, nightmares, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations.

Many believe they have been incorrectly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression and were ignored by the military after raising concerns about the drug.

Last month, the ADF acknowledged it should not have given the drug to a soldier with a history of mental illness while serving in East Timor. He developed chronic depression and severe psychosis after taking the drug.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration warns that patients with a history of depression, anxiety disorders or other psychiatric illness should not be prescribed the drug.

Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan said the government was committed to supporting ADF personnel who had been administered mefloquine and encouraged those concerned to seek help.

“Any former member who was administered Mefloquine by the ADF and is concerned about possible side effects, can lodge a claim for a condition that they think was caused by mefloquine,” he said.

“My message to veterans and ADF personnel is if you are worried about how you are coping or feeling, then seek help early.”

Mr Tehan said the government would launch an interdepartmental committee to examine issues raised by veterans. The group will report back to him by November.

“The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service provides free, confidential,nation-wide counselling and support for eligible current and former ADF members and their families,” he said.

Earlier this year, Fairfax Media revealed the ADF Inspector-General had a launched an inquiry in the East Timor drug trials. A report is expected by the end of the year although Defence has not confirmed its public release.

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