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Bragg Investigation Put On Fast Track
RALEIGH, N.C. , Aug. 23, 2002
"There's no reason to believe right now that Larium affected the behavior of the individuals."
Army spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis
(CBS) The army has suddenly put the Ft. Bragg murder investigations on the fast track. As CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports, the military will now send an investigative team to North Carolina this weekend. Included in the investigation is whether the anti-malarial drug Larium was a factor.
The Army confirmed Friday that it will send a team of medical experts to Fort Bragg, N.C., to study a wide range of health-related issues that might explain a series of domestic killings.
However, a written statement said the epidemiological team's main focus will not be on the possibility of a link between the killings and soldiers' use of an anti-malaria medication.
"Contrary to news reports speculating that the team will focus primarily on anti-malaria prophylaxis/medications taken by soldiers, the team will consult with local medical and unit/installation leadership at Fort Bragg on a wide variety of possible contributing factors," the statement said.
The Army team will look into cultural and other issues not unique to Fort Bragg, the statement noted.
Four wives of soldiers at Fort Bragg were killed in a six-week span this summer. Each death is blamed on the husband. Three of the four men were Special Operations soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan.
Two of the soldiers killed themselves after killing their wives.
The Special Ops soldiers reportedly all took Lariam, a drug given to troops serving in places - like Afghanistan - where the deadly mosquito-borne disease malaria is prevalent.
Consultants in psychology, social work and psychiatry will join Army epidemiologists and chaplains as well as officials from the government's Centers for Disease Control. In addition to health issues, they will assess the Army's family education programs, practices and support services.
"Members will also look at specific data associated with recent cases looking for patterns, organizational dynamics and medical issues that may have contributing significance," the Army statement said.
William Wright, reports Bowers was one of three Ft. Bragg soldiers who reportedly took Lariam in Afghanistan and then came home and allegedly killed their wives.
Johnny Lown, a former Army Medic who served with Wright says, "Bill was not a guy that you'd suspect."
When Lowns heard about the murder he immediately wondered about Lariam. As a medic he dispensed the drug. It was in Haiti back in the mid 90's that he first noticed the problem with side effects.
"It was common knowledge with the nightsweats and the vivid dreams it also intensified a personality, if a guy was down he was gonna be more down if he was quiet he would be anxious."
Lown's wife Debbie knew enough to tiptoe around her husband when he was taking Lariam.
Debbie Lown says, "I was getting very concerned and as i talked to other team wives they said we're all experiencing the same thing some even worse then my husband.
The drug's manufacturer Hoffman LaRoche acknowleges side effects in rare cases saying no medicine is "completely free of adverse events. However, it is important to note that Lariam is not associated with violent, criminal conduct."
However, Roche Laboratories, acknowledges reports of suicide and suicidal thoughts attributed to Lariam, also known as mefloquine. But company spokesman Terence Hurley said they are extremely rare, "only a small percentage of the more than 25 million people that have successfully used Lariam."
Col. Robert of the U.S. Army says, "We have found for most soldiers this is the drug that they're able to handle very well and even the side effects they've had have been relatively minor."
But other nations feel differently. Australia for example doesn't give Lariam to its military anymore. The drugs critics here at home say any investigation is long overdue.
"There's no reason to believe right now that Larium affected the behavior of the individuals," Army spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said Wednesday.
The Army says, simply put, Lariam saves soldiers serving in places like Somalia and Afghanistan and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
And it's not just soldiers and diplomats taking Lariam. It's one of three anti-malarial drugs recommended by the government and is prescribed to nearly 400,000 American travelers every year – many of whom may not be aware of the potential risks.
Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal, disease caused by a parasite that infects humans through mosquito bites. The World Health Organization estimates that perhaps as many as 500 million cases of malaria occur each year and more than 1 million people die of the disease worldwide.
Lariam is the malaria remedy of choice for soldiers because it is taken once a week instead of daily.
© MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc.
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