WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- A startling pattern of violence and suicide by America's most elite soldiers has followed their use of a controversial anti-malaria drug, an investigation by United Press International and CNN has found.
The government already warns that the drug, called Lariam, might cause long-term mental problems -- including aggression and suicide.
Six Special Forces soldiers who took their lives are all believed to have taken the drug, according to the UPI-CNN investigation. The cable news network broadcast a segment on the joint investigation Tuesday.
The psychotic behavior and suicides are particularly jarring because Special Forces soldiers are highly trained and psychologically vetted. An Army study in 2000 showed Special Forces soldiers produce more of a chemical in the brain that helps them cope with and recover from extreme duress.
"It's just antithetical to their whole practice of their craft to suddenly lose control, become depressed, paranoid, hallucinate and become suicidal," said Dr. Paul Ragan, associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former military psychiatrist. "You have to look for some exogenous factor, some outside factor, something new in the mix that will change how they've otherwise been able to operate."
Those deaths then raise concerns about the tens of thousands of soldiers who have taken Lariam during the war on terrorism -- and about dozens of suicides and a handful of murders among troops while overseas or after returning home.
The pattern also suggests that the Army might have missed the cause of three murder-suicides involving Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the summer of 2002. A report by the Army surgeon general's office blamed marital problems for all the deaths and called Lariam an unlikely factor. But the report did not consider physical or mental problems among the three Special Forces soldiers, described by family and friends, that fit side effects from Lariam.
The UPI/CNN investigation found three more suicides by Special Forces soldiers -- all of them Green Berets believed to have taken Lariam. None appears to have had acute marital problems, combat stress or other personal issues that would help explain their sudden plunge into violence.
Are we creating a new pharmcological underclass of soldiers driven to murder or suicide?
I wrote about Lariam and the Fort Bragg murder-suicides before, due to my personal experience with the drug that completely supports "exogenous factor" theories of profound drug-induced psychological disturbance.
In other words, Lariam makes you crazy. And we're giving it to tens of thousands our troops. And they have weapons. And that's not good.