In light of renewed interest in the antimalarial drug called mefloquine, The Royal Canadian Legion is once again calling upon the Department of National Defence to end the drug’s use within the military until further research can be completed.
The Legion is reaffirming its stance on the critical need for additional study, in the wake of recent media reports urging the Government to undertake research into mefloquine and its side effects; and ensure those who were given the drug are aware of the potential side effects and receive the proper diagnosis and care they deserve.
Mefloquine was developed as an inexpensive option to protect against malaria, but brought with it devastating side effects, most notably psychological effects similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other long term and sometimes-permanent side effects such as dizziness, insomnia, seizures, and psychiatric reactions have been reported. 
Mefloquine was first issued as an unlicensed drug to 900 Canadians soldiers in the 1992-93 Somalia mission, as part of a clinical study. Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to Rwanda in 1994 were also required to take mefloquine. Side effects from the drug began within weeks of being issued the drug, and symptoms progressed and worsened with continuous use. In 1999, the federal Auditor-General issued a report indicating the Department of National Defence had improperly prescribed mefloquine and failed to track soldiers’ side effects as required by the clinical study. Yet, in spite of the critical report and lack of adequate research on mefloquine, according to the Department of National Defence, an additional 15,677 Canadian soldiers received the drug between 2001 and 2012. 
The Canadian Armed Forces used mefloquine on recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada, although PHAC admitted long-term neuropsychological effects had not been confirmed.  There are other antimalarial drugs available that have fewer side effects than mefloquine.
While it is no longer the drug of choice, it is still on the list of allowed antimalarial drugs in Canada. Other allied countries (such as Australia and the United States) that have seen the effects of mefloquine have ceased prescribing the drug to their military personnel. Health Canada has since agreed that mefloquine can cause serious psychological impairment and permanent brain damage, yet the drug continues to be used on our military.
The Royal Canadian Legion is distressed at the lack of substantive research on this controversial drug and its continued impact on the health, diagnosis and treatment of Veterans who were prescribed mefloquine.
In late 2016, the Legion sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs urging the Government to undertake research into mefloquine and its side effects, and ensure those who were given the drug are aware of the potential side effects and receive the proper diagnosis and care they deserve. Read our letter to the Ministers.
A 2017 reply from Health Canada indicated that mefloquine is prescribed to protect against a strain of malaria that is resistant to another drug. It said prescribing information now includes the use of boxed warnings and a Patient Medication Information section that is easy to understand; and that this information reinforces the drug should not be used in people with major psychiatric disorders. It also confirms that certain side effects can persist for months or years, even permanently.
While Health Canada indicated it will continue to monitor the safety of the drug and will take action to make sure the benefits continue to outweigh the risks, there was no confirmation of specific research on mefloquine and its continued impact on the health, diagnosis and treatment of Veterans who were prescribed this still controversial drug.
In the interest of all Veterans, those impacted by mefloquine, and those still serving who stand ready to answer the call of duty, the Legion once again calls on the Department of National Defence to immediately cease the use of mefloquine for Canada’s serving men and women and embark upon long-awaited and detailed research into the drug’s dangerous effects.
About The Royal Canadian Legion
Founded in 1925, the Legion is Canada’s largest Veteran support and community service organization. We are a non-profit organization with a national reach across Canada as well as branches in the U.S., Europe and Mexico. With more than 275,000 members, many of whom volunteer an extraordinary amount of time to their branches, our strength is in our numbers.