The manufacturer of the antimalaria drug Lariam said yesterday it will send written notices to physicians warning that the drug has been linked to reports of suicide.
The action is being taken as US Army officials investigate whether there is a connection between Lariam and a series of murders and suicides this summer by soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Although a Hoffman-LaRoche spokesman stressed yesterday that the company has no evidence Lariam can cause people to commit suicide, the decision to inform doctors was made four months after the company privately settled a lawsuit with Linda Perry of Ohio, whose husband, Charles Perry, committed suicide in 1999 after taking Lariam. Two doctors who treated Charles Perry swore in affidavits that they believed Lariam turned him from a healthy man into one suffering paranoia and hallucinations that eventually caused him to kill himself. The firm admitted no fault in settling the suit.
Four soldiers at Fort Bragg are alleged to have killed their wives in June and July, and two of the soldiers then committed suicide. The Army is investigating whether the soldiers took Lariam.
As the Globe reported Saturday, Army officials said they had not been informed about the settlement of the Perry suit.
The Army also said it was concerned about labeling changes on the drug. In July, the manufacturer added a phrase to the warning label that said there had been reports of suicide by some patients. But many physicians apparently did not know about the label change, prompting LaRoche to send the letter.
In a statement released yesterday, LaRoche said it sent the letter because there are ”important changes in prescribing information.” Those changes include a statement that ”rare cases of suicidal ideation and suicide have been reported, but no relationship to drug administration has been confirmed.” Suicidal ideations refers to thinking about suicide.
Janet Abaray, the Cincinnati lawyer who reached the settlement with LaRoche earlier this year, said the company’s move appeared to be ”in recognition of the fact that we provided evidence that the [previous] warning was inadequate.”
The drug company has acknowledged receiving at least eight reports of suicides worldwide by Lariam users, but it said the Perry death is the only reported suicide in the United States since the drug was introduced in this country in 1989. The drug was developed by the Army and then licensed to the drug company, which has sold it to 25 million patients worldwide.
Jeanne Lese, co-director of a patient group called Lariam Action, said that the company’s decision to send the letter to physicians is ”highly important.” The group says there are many cases of Lariam patients having psychotic episodes.