62. Mefloquine Dispatches: Lachlan ‘Marty’ Martin, 14th May 1996
And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God, And I’d get Him to swap our places
Be runnin’ up that road, Be runnin’ up that hill, Be runnin’ up that building
Say, if I only could, oh.
Kate Bush (1985)
Was Marty the first Special Forces soldier to inadvertantely die from his mefloquine exposure? We probably won’t ever know…
It is 2019. Winter hasn’t quite arrived yet and I’ve recently been released from hospital. I sit in my cabin and stare at my computer. I am somewhat shell-shocked.
A knock at the door. D*, still technically my Brother-In-Law smiles through the fly-screen. A veteran whom I served with. He has heard via family channels that I’m in a bad way.
“What the fuck happened to you”? he asks.
“I think they really fucked us both, D*” I reply. I’ve been sober for almost two years by this stage so I ‘smash’ the kettle and we move outside for a yarn.
I start to go through my memory recall. I ask him about the incident in the Tarawa when our troop sergeant almost got killed. He laughs. He was sitting next to me on a Humvee when it happened. Apparently, we both shit ourselves when we saw that wave coming through the bay doors.
Ok, what about the incident at the pub in Perth, did that happen? Yes… Greenpeace? Yes…
We pause. “You know that after Somalia you were never right?” I state. “Did I tell you F* came at me in a train about a decade ago, wanting my heart. Looked like a fucking skeleton. I had one of the kids with me. As soon as those train doors opened I ran with him in under my arm. I was pretty sure he was screaming at me from the train doors”.
D* sits on that for awhile as we drink our coffee. “You know F* is dead, right?”.
“No.” I sit on that for a bit. “Was it his heart. He was screaming at me about wanting my heart”.
“Yes, heart transplant. Didn’t you read the Courier Mail piece”. I shake my head.
“I don’t think we just die from suicide, D*”. I explain about the time I went into ER a few months back and my Doctor (another veteran) checked my heart first. At the time it didn’t make sense.
D* guides me back to suicide. He asks if I’m OK? He is a bit concerned.
I start to go through a couple of other memories. One I lost due to amnesia (finally diagnosed in 2021) and two I remembered but hadn’t really talked about. The first two incidents are not quite suicide attempts. I call it letting go. The last memory was my only suicide attempt in 2014. I recall them in reverse order. Suicide, my crazy Parachute jump (1999) and finally the Angel jump (1997).
I’m doing an Angel jump demonstration for the Squadron in late 97. I’ve done this scores of times (it was kind of my thing at the time). Everything was setup as normal but my hands couldn’t stop trembling as I dealt with the ropes and equipment. I had been busy on courses and was out of practice but the shaking was new and troubling. I go through with the jump and my hand doesn’t quite catch the rope or I let go (I’m not sure). I think ‘fuck it’, I’m going to die. Good way to go. My belayer, SGT J*, catches me and I snap out of it and descend. He immediately questioned me as to what went wrong. I use my ‘reasonable excuse’ line (my hand had been cut in half some years before so it has never quite worked 100% since). I never completed another Angel jump after that one.
D* sits on that for a minute. “When do you reckon you got the tremors”? he asks.
“Straight after mefloquine D*, I gave up rock-climbing and judo pretty much after I got it. My body just didn’t work after taking that shit and the tremors just weirded me out”.
Then he tells me something I probably knew but lost.
“Did Marty tell you he had tremors and was struggling on the technical side of his HALO jump”.
“No, but he might have, my memory is shit” (due to my as yet undiagnosed amnesia).
D* continues. “He told T* and I just before he died. We told WO2 V* at Marty’s funeral that he was struggling with his motor skills around the HALO jump. T* even baled him up about it. V* promised that it would be looked into it”. (Note T* is the wife of D*).
Now I pause. “I can’t remember V* but he would have passed it on. Which means the Regiment knew but didn’t give a shit or just covered it up. Get this, Lariam was banned by Special Forces in the US awhile back”.
“Why?”, asks D*.
“Not sure but I reckon it might be the US saw a drop in shooting standards once they took that mefloquine shit. That’s all that the Ruperts care about. Apparently it can cause vertigo and even epilipsy. I’ll have to look into that at some stage.”
“So you reckon mefloquine might have killed Marty too”? asked D*.
“I know it has killed a lot of us. Sent others insane. Who knows about Marty. The Regiment didn’t even investigate his death by the sounds of it.”
Marty knew he had a problem and despite that knowledge he still jumped. That is bravery.
To the Lost, Brother.
Name: Lachlan ‘Marty’ Martin
Rank/Occupation: Signalman, 152 Signal Squadron, SASR, Australian Army.
Deceased: 14th May 1996 (aged: 23). Bindoon, Western Australia, Australia.
NOK: Marty’s Mum.
Exposure to Anti-Quinolines: Highly likely the Advance Party for Operation Solace (1992/93) received mefloquine prior to airlift until they synched in with the doxycycline program that was administered in-country. Possible exposure to Mefloquine during his 1990s service (i.e. the Tully Jungle Warfare Centre utilised ‘what ever was on the shelf’). Marty completed a stint as DS staff at the Tully Jungle Warfare Centre prior to posting to the SASR.
Conditions witnessed/documented that relate to Quinism: Possible toxic vestibulopathy. Was concerned about shaking/tremors prior to HALO jump. Possible suicide ideation.
Confounding Factors: Fear.
Cause of Death: Parachute accident.
OPINION: Mefloquine damages the brain in unique ways. It also damages the inner ear which causes a range of issues including dizziness, disequilibrium, vision issues, vertigo and I suspect tremors. The disease is called toxic vestibulopathy. An excerpt from the Department of Veterans Affairs:
Toxic vestibulopathy is damage to the vestibular organs of the inner ear or the vestibular nerve as a result of exposure to a chemical agent, and resulting in clinical manifestations (symptoms and signs). Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, vertigo, dizziness, disequilibrium, nystagmus (eye jerking), and oscillopsia (blurred vision with head movement).
The assessment of clinical onset begins with the confirmed diagnosis, then goes back in time to the first onset of reliable clinical symptoms and signs following the chemical exposure.
The usual course for toxic vestibulopathy is to improve or persist but not worsen unless there is ongoing exposure to the chemcial agent.
Dr Remington Nevin wrote the definitive piece on mefloquine and suicide and suicide ideation in 2013. Via the Huffington Post. Mefloquine: The Military’s Suicide Pill. Excerpt:
In late July, 2013, the FDA issued a powerful “black box” safety warning for a drug which has been taken by hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent malaria. The drug is called mefloquine, and it was previously sold in the U.S. by F. Hoffman-La Roche under the trade name Lariam. Since being developed by the U.S. military over four decades ago, mefloquine has been widely used by troops on deployments in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
We now recognize, decades too late, that mefloquine is neurotoxic and can cause lasting injury to the brainstem and emotional centers in the limbic system. As a result of its toxic effects, the drug is quickly becoming the “Agent Orange” of this generation, linked to a growing list of lasting neurological and psychiatric problems including suicide.
The public had its first glimpse of the mefloquine suicide problem over a decade ago in 2002, when a cluster of murder-suicides occurred among Ft. Bragg soldiers returning home from deployment. All three soldiers had been taking mefloquine, yet an official Army investigation later concluded mefloquine was “unlikely to be the cause of this clustering.” The Army Surgeon General even testified to Congress there was “absolutely no statistical correlation between Lariam use and those murder suicides.” The next year, in 2003, a spike in suicides in the early months of the Iraq war was linked in media reports to widespread use of mefloquine; in response, the U.S. Army promised a study “to dispel Lariam suicide myths.” Yet when mefloquine use was halted in Iraq in 2004, the active duty Army suicide rate fell precipitously.
FOI to the ADF (request sent 13.05.2023)
This is a request for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 for access to the following documents:
I’d like specific access to the official investigation into the death of Signalman Lachlan ‘Marty’ Martin.
I know how Marty died. No one wants to rehash that.
I’m specifically after any reference to anti-quinolines in that investigation. There should be something. Tremors were raised by concerned soldiers and their spouses and no follow-up was ever conducted by either the ADF or HQSF. Marty deployed in the Advance Party of Operation Solace, when the SOPs stated you were to take mefloquine on short deployments to malarial zones. He might have even taken mefloquine as part of Directing Staff at the Jungle Warfare Centre, Tully.
If there wasn’t an investigation, why not?
Should you have any questions in relation to this request, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
For your review and consideration.
Medical/MH Note: My opinion is not based on a medical nor mental health background. Just a lived experience former Digger trying to raise awareness on Quinism. Remember, PTSD wasn’t a thing until it was.
Final Note: Permission was given by D* & T* to publish both conversations which occurred in 2019 and 2022.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australian Government. Toxic vestibulopathy F098. Accessed 13.05.2023. https://clik.dva.gov.au/sop-information/sops-and-supporting-information-alphabetic-listing/q-z/toxic-vestibulopathy-f098
Huffington Post. Mefloquine: The Military’s Suicide Pill. Published 25.09.2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mefloquine-the-militarys_b_3989034
Kate Bush. (1985). Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). Kent, UK. EMI Records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp43OdtAAkM
Repatriation Medical Authority, Australian Government. SOPs matching factor Mefloquine. Last modified 2023. http://www.rma.gov.au/sops/search?Number=&Year=&Condition=&Factor=Mefloquine
My daughter printed out a photo of Marty and put it on the family fridge. “So you won’t forget him again, Father”. Marty is pictured covering my arse (again) while he was teaching me how to drive. He was a good teacher, I was just a shit driver. Cowley Beach, 1993