The Pentagon said Wednesday that it will investigate the possible side effects of an anti-malaria drug developed by the Army, including whether it might be a factor in suicides.
Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told a House Armed Services Committee panel that he would begin a study into the drug Lariam, “to include suicide and neuropsychiatric outcomes.”
He said the Pentagon will appoint a panel to help design the study, but said it could take months or years to complete. Pentagon health officials also said they no longer would use Lariam in Iraq because the risk of malaria was slight compared with the risk of the drug.
The Pentagon is studying suicides committed in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mr. Winkenwerder said 21 Army soldiers from units assigned to the operation committed suicide.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. James B. Peake told the panel that the Army is investigating five more deaths in Iraq as possible suicides, and six deaths among soldiers in Iraq who killed themselves after returning to the United States.
When asked about the suicide investigation late last month, Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd said the Pentagon would not consider Lariam.
“We don’t believe there is any connection between Lariam and suicide,” Miss Rudd said at the time. “There is nothing to indicate that is a factor.”
Four of the 21 soldiers who committed suicide in Iraq or Kuwait came from units that took Lariam, the Pentagon health officials said Wednesday. One tested positive for Lariam in the blood, they said.
Developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Lariam, known generically as mefloquine, is one of the drugs used by soldiers to prevent malaria, which is a particular concern during the summer months.