Pentagon Might Send Team To Probe Killings

By EMERY P. DALESIO, Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Pentagon is considering sending a medical team to see whether there are any links between a series of domestic killings at Fort Bragg and an anti-malaria drug taken by soldiers.

The Army's preferred anti-malaria drug, Lariam, carries rare reported side effects including agitation, depression and aggression. The epidemiological team could be sent to Fort Bragg in the next few weeks, Army spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said Wednesday.

"There's no reason to believe right now that Larium affected the behavior of the individuals," Kanellis stressed, adding that the team would also probe any other behavioral and physical problems that might be involved.

The drug's manufacturer, 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."

The World Health Organization puts the incidence of serious neuropsychiatric effects from the drug at 5 in 100,000. Out of millions of travelers given mefloquine each year, between 1 in 6,000 to 1 in about 10,000 will experience some kind of serious adverse reaction, the WHO says.

Three of the four Fort Bragg soldiers who investigators say killed their wives this summer were Special Operations troops who had been deployed to Afghanistan, where the risk of malaria is high. Army officials would not say if the men had taken Lariam.

Two of the soldiers killed themselves after killing their wives. The dead included Ohioans Jennifer Wright, 32, of Mason, and Andrea Floyd, 29, of Alliance.

Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal, disease caused by a parasite that infects humans through mosquito bites. The WHO 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.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)