A law firm leading potential litigation against the Ministry of Defence over the issuing of anti-malarial drugs has said that huge numbers of people are coming forward. Hilary Meredith Solicitors claims to have been approached by more than 3,000 serving military personnel and veterans who were prescribed the drug mefloquine, marketed under the brand name Lariam, on foreign tours.

Mefloquine, developed in the US in the 1970s to cope with chloroquine resistance and introduced to the UK military in 1989, has been reported to have side effects including hallucinations and depression. The current patient information leaflet states that the drug ’may cause serious mental problems in some people’. In 2016, a damning House of Commons defence select committee report said the drug should no longer be issued in all but exceptional circumstances, saying many soldiers had discarded their prescription for fear of the consequences and that the Ministry of Defence had failed to follow manufacturers’ guidance. 

Hilary Meredith, chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, said up to 17,000 members of the armed forces may have been prescribed mefloquine and not given proper advice about how to take it. ‘Most drugs have side effects but with Lariam, which can cause psychiatric abnormalities, it is essential that the recipient is made aware of the long list of potential symptoms,’ she said. ‘The military’s basic duty of care towards service personnel is to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable problems, yet they prescribed Lariam without providing the correct advice and support.’

The MoD has confirmed that it is dealing with a number of claims related to the prescription of the drug but is unable to comment in more detail about ongoing litigation.

Former defence minister Mark Lancaster has already apologised if the MoD prescribed drugs without a risk assessment, and the department has acted following the defence committee’s report to ensure procedures for anti-malarials are appropriate.

The MoD says it takes its guidance from Public Health England, the World Health Organisation and other respected bodies which continue to recommend mefloquine as a safe and effective form of malaria prevention.