ABC is airing interviews Friday and Monday with Taya Kyle, widow of American Sniper Chris Kyle. Taya, who has a new book out, is an impressive person – poised, smart, passionate -- and I got the sense early on that she is going to be a formidable public presence for a long time.
This gives me a moment to bring up a question that’s been in my mind all along -- whether her husband’s killer, Eddie Ray Routh, might have taken the anti-malaria drug mefloquine (brand name Lariam).
“This dude is straight-up nuts. He's right behind me. Watch my six,” Chris Kyle texted to Chad Littlefield as they drove to the shooting range with Routh (who soon killed them both). That’s the kind of thing you hear about soldiers who take Lariam, a CDC-recommended drug that has caused psychosis, depression, paranoia suicide and homicidal violence. Not a great thing to be handing out to people with guns.
My research on Lariam convinced me the CDC was too close to pharma, too willing to overlook side effects in its zeal to prevent disease, and too able to hide the truth. That got me onto vaccines and autism, which has been my focus ever since.
But mefloquine continues to cause harm (its effects can be permanent, the CDC finally acknowledged), and it’s worth keeping on our radar.
Routh didn’t see combat in Iraq, which kind of weakens the claim that his experience caused him to develop PTSD. What apparently really got to him were his experiences in Haiti, where he was deployed as a Marine after the 2010 earthquake. According to ABC, an uncle testified that Routh "didn't seem to find much joy in his life after he came back" from the humanitarian mission in Haiti. Others said he was never the same, and increasingly suicidal.
This reminded me of a couple of other things. You may remember in February President Obama signed a law to improve suicide-prevention services in the military. It’s called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act for American Veterans. "Today we honor a young man who isn't here but should be here," Obama said. "He suffered physical injuries that healed, and he suffered invisible wounds that stayed with him."
Like Routh, Hunt went to Haiti after the earthquake. He was no longer a Marine, but wanted to help. His mother said the experience was therapeutic, but he killed himself in 2011. I’ve wondered what he, too, took in Haiti.
This past week, a TV producer stayed at our house for a few days and mentioned that he had been in Haiti after the quake. He said he didn’t take a malaria drug – he is not a big fan of mainstream medicine -- but a lot of other people did. Though he didn’t remember the drug’s name, he said they had been plagued by the vivid nightmares and waking hallucinations that occur with Lariam. As for the soldiers he met there, they told him they didn’t take it. “Are you crazy?” they said, aware of its daunting reputation.
Now, Lariam is not the first-line malaria drug recommended in Haiti. But I would really like to know what Routh and Hunt may have taken there, and perhaps elsewhere, too. Since the military invented mefloquine, their propensity to hand it out sometimes exceeds the formal recommendations. (Special Forces banned it in 2013 after the CDC strengthened warnings; an insider told me he thought the command was “sick of being lied to” that the drug was safe after a long string of inexplicable suicides and violence by the elite soldiers. Special Forces suicides have since fallen sharply while the rest of the military still struggles with the problem – make of it what you will.)
Lariam and other drugs given to soldiers, like anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and, yes, vaccines, need to be honestly considered if we want to get these problems under control. Twenty-two vets commit suicide every day, and I will guarantee you some of them are instigated, in whole or in part, by the permanent effects of Lariam or other drugs the military has pushed in them.
Instead all we hear about are combat stress, PTSD, lack of jobs, lack of support by the rest of us, how horrible the poverty is in Haiti, and other answers that don’t really add up to 22 suicides a day. (Were there 22 suicides a day after World War II? That was no picnic, either). It’s much more comfortable for the powers that be to pontificate about supporting our troops and vets, sign bills, and do public service ads about de-stigmatizing mental illness than it is to confront and investigate the role they may have played by pushing pills that just aren’t safe.
It’s kind of like autism, isn’t it? The damage rolls on while those in charge talk nonsense.
Let’s not let them.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.