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The Therapy Sessions
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I know that drug


Some current or former troops sent to Iraq (news - web sites) claim that Lariam, the commercial name for the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, has provoked disturbing and dangerous behavior. The families of some troops blame the drug for the suicides of their loved ones.

For once, I acutally have some experience with one of these drugs. I took Larium when I was in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. It gave me some vivid dreams, dreams that took me an uncomfortably long time to distinguish from reality.

One case was particularly bad. It was late at night when I was startled awake by the thunder.

My house had thin walls and a steel roof, and it was located on top of a hill near the edge of a long sloping plain of peanut and cassava fields. Off in the valley it was wet. Somtimes there was a stream. There were some rice paddies there, and this was also where my students bathed. On the plain there was an old rusting radio tower that did not seem to work.

When the thunderstorms rolled in, my house absorbed the brunt of their energy and noise. I have never lived through a mortar attack, but the thunder made me feel like I had. The house shook. Things fell off the walls and tables; sometimes it sounded like parts of the house had collapsed.

It was a great way to wake up at 3:00 AM.

On one occasion, I dreamt my mother had died. I saw certain things clearly: I knew I had received a phone call from my father telling me of her passing. I was reasoning out how I was going to get to Freetown in the morning, and how I was going to find a plane after that.

But there was something wrong, and I couldn't figure it out.

After about a half hour, I remembered that there was no phone in Magburaka. I remembered that I hadn't been to Freetown in at least a month. No Peace Corps vehicles had come to my house recently to deliver news. I knew this because I knew all the drivers and I would have invited them in for a visit had they come to my house.

My mother couldn't have died, I reasoned, but the emotions were still there.

Other volunteers had similar stories of vivid dreams. I was out of country five years before I started seeing news stories about the side-effects of this drug.

Larium is a scary drug in that sense. But I never got malaria, and that is what I took it for. For preventing malaria, it was (is?) the best drug out there.

I wouldn't have soldiers take it unless it was absolutely necessary.

What is the malaria incidence in Iraq anyway?

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