A Brief History of a Long-Debated Drug

In the 1960s, the United States military tested Mefloquine for malaria-killing activity because anti-malarial drugs prior to mefloquine were no longer effective, and alternatives were urgently needed to protect troops fighting wars in Indo-China.

After the Vietnam War (1954-75), development of an anti-malarial drug was transferred to the pharmaceutical industry which worked in collaboration with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s (WRAIR) malaria drug discovery program from 1963-76. While animal tests and clinical trials in humans were designed to help define dosing, no studies were completed to determine the potential ill-effects of the drug: any studies which should have been performed prior to the licensing of Lariam (mefloquine) were never carried out.

Lariam (mefloquine) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1989. Since the mid-1990s, neurotoxicity has been an evident and frequent result of taking mefloquine; studies undertaken since 1997 have confirmed mefloquine’s potential for causing psychological illness and an excess of neuropsychiatric adverse effects.

Canada introduced mefloquine to its troops for the first time during their deployment to Somalia from 1992-93, and despite the tragedy of the Somalia Affair, despite persistent reporting of mefloquine’s negative impact on Canadian soldiers and their families, despite the high incidence of suicide, violence, and tragedy, the Canadian Armed Forces is still administering the drug to its troops.


1.     A lesson learnt: the rise and fall of Lariam and Halfan. J R Soc Med. 2007 Apr; 100(4): 170–174.  doi 10.1258/jrsm.100.4.170

2.     Weekly Dose: mefloquine, an antimalarial drug made to win wars. The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair | health+medicine. April 27, 2016 12.39am EDT

3.     The History of the Anti-Malaria Treatment Mefloqunie (Lariam) in the Military. Exerpt from Bonnie Toews’ blog, Heart Tugs … At the Crossroads of Humanity (2010)