At Fort Bragg, another violent suicide of Afghanistan War veteran

Another Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan shot himself to death at Fort Bragg last week after wounding his ex-wife and her boyfriend, according to police and military officials. The soldier was in a unit prescribed a controversial malaria drug that has been linked to several other violent incidents ending in soldier suicides.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said a study that was begun a year ago to see whether the drug, called Lariam, had led to suicides or other problems is still in the preliminary stages. There has been no change in the military's use of the drug, the Pentagon added.

Spc. Richard T. Corcoran, 34, shot himself Feb. 3 at his ex-wife's home near the North Carolina base. He first shot her boyfriend several times, then shot her in the arm. Both survived.

Corcoran served in Afghanistan from September 2002 to March 2003 with the Seventh Special Forces Group in an area where soldiers were routinely prescribed Lariam, according to Major Robert Gowan, a spokesman for the Army Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg. Gowan said he did not know whether Corcoran actually had taken the drug. Corcoran was in language training at Fort Bragg when he died and was "still training to become a fully qualified Special Forces soldier," the command said in a press release.

In the summer of 2002 three Special Forces soldiers who had served in Afghanistan and took Lariam killed their wives, and subsequently themselves, after returning to Fort Bragg. The Army investigated, ruling out the drug as a common factor in those deaths and instead blaming marital problems. An investigation by United Press International found that all three had exhibited behavior consistent with acknowledged side effects of the drug and that there was no apparent history of violence in the marriages.

UPI uncovered three more suicides by Special Forces soldiers who took the drug.

Since 2003 the Food and Drug Administration has required that anyone prescribed Lariam be given a medication guide that says, "Lariam can rarely cause serious mental problems in some patients. ... There have been reports that in some patients these side effects continue after Lariam is stopped. Some patients taking Lariam think about killing themselves. It is not known whether Lariam was responsible for these suicides."

A spike in suicides by soldiers in Iraq in 2003 led to an Army investigation. The Army largely stopped prescribing Lariam in Iraq last year, citing a lack of malaria risk. The number of suicides there subsequently fell by at least half -- from 24 in 2003 to nine in 2004, with three deaths still under investigation.

Corcoran, the latest Fort Bragg suicide, was charged in 1989 in an incident in Glen Ridge, N.J., in which several football players were accused of raping a mentally retarded girl. The charges against Corcoran were dropped the day before the trial, and he won $200,000 in a federal civil-rights lawsuit claiming malicious prosecution.

A veterans' advocate said the suicide needs to be investigated in light of the earlier deaths involving Special Forces soldiers, the military's most elite and highly trained.

"The indicator now is the psychological battery of tests he would have gone through to be a Special Forces soldier," said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center and a former Army Ranger.

"I don't think anybody can immediately say if Lariam is connected. However, you can't be in Special Forces and be a crazy person."

Last February Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told Congress he was ordering a study of anti-malaria drugs to see if they were linked to serious health problems in soldiers. The study was a response to concerns that Lariam, widely prescribed to troops in the war on terrorism, was triggering mental illness and suicides.

A year later, a "preliminary prescriptive study" is being conducted that was recommended as a first step by the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board.

"The preliminary study is nearly complete," Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said in a statement to UPI. "Once completed, it will be briefed to the DoD (Department of Defense) Health Affairs leadership, and then followed by the AFEB-recommended, retrospective cohort study to be conducted by military and civilian scientists, which may take 12-18 months, and then offered for peer-reviewed publication."

Acceptance by a peer-reviewed medical journal, followed by publication, typically takes months and is not guaranteed.

Turner said that study will "help determine if there is any scientifically based cause-effect relationships between mefloquine (Lariam) and medical conditions experienced by service members."

In the meantime, Turner said, the department policy on malaria prevention is unchanged.

"In the case of malaria protection and treatment, DoD healthcare providers follow a policy of using FDA-approved drugs and Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommendations for the use of mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline and Malarone as medications effective in preventing infection with chloroquine-resistant Falciparum malaria; there is no change in the Department's use of these drugs," Turner said.

UPI found that in widespread instances soldiers were not receiving the mandatory written warning about Lariam side effects, and prescriptions were not being recorded in their medical records as required by law.

"It is probably a daunting task to figure out if Lariam is a factor in suicides and other issues that veterans are facing when the Department of Defense did not follow the public law," said Robinson of the Gulf War veterans group. "That could be the reason why it might take some time."

He also criticized the study's retrospective approach going back a number of years as "three-card monte" -- a swindling game in which cards are hidden.

"It's a scientific trick to skew the data that we're really looking for," Robinson said. "We're looking for what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan."

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( '? note: hmmmm When Is Suicide Not Viiolent? ( '? end
Dan Olmsted UPI, Washington Times
Posted 2005-02-12 00:41:00.0


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