“I will never get my father back”: How the neurotoxic U.S. Army antimalarial drug tafenoquine destroyed the lives of countless Australian service families

It’s not fair on them, to grow up and have a parent have to go through this. I’ve destroyed not just my life. Everyone around me really. All for the sake of some trial drug I was made to take.

Mr Aaron King, Australian Army “Study 033” tafenoquine trial subject

THIS post highlights the devastating impact that tafenoquine has had on hundreds of the families of soldiers who where subjected to the notorious Australian Army Malaria Institute (AMI) drug trials in Bougainville and East Timor at the turn of the century.

Aaron King was one of 492 tafenoquine subjects in the AMI Study 033, involving a total of 654 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) while deployed on peacekeeping duties in East Timor in 2000-2001. Prior to the deployment, the soldiers were given “loading doses” of 600 mg tafenoquine, then 200 mg weekly for the rest of their seven month deployment. Despite the experiences of Aaron and many of his fellow soldiers, the trial report eventually published in 2010 did not include a single severe neuropsychiatric event report. For this and other reasons, the published report is believed to be fraudulent.

This was one of a series of tafenoquine drug trials undertaken by the Australian Defence Forces as part of a commercial agreement with the pharmaceutical industry which a former Director of the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) conceded was “naive” and “desperate.” Tafenoquine is a product of the same WRAIR antimalarial drug discovery program as mefloquine. Both drugs are known to be neurotoxic. Despite the concerns of hundreds of the drug trial subjects like Aaron, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) continued to commercialize the drug, in a contract with 60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals worth $18+ million, until in 2018 it was granted regulatory approval as Arakoda® in the U.S. and Kodatef® in Australia.

During last year’s Australian Senate Inquiry into the AMI drug trials, more than 100 written submissions were made by the participants or their families, while dozens testified in person at hearings held across the country. Below is the full written submission from Aaron’s daughter, Ms Angela King. Mrs Raelene King’s written submission is here and a transcript of her oral testimony is here. Included below is a video she made while preparing her written submission.

My name is Angela King,

I am writing to you about my Father Aaron King who was given Tafenoquine.

As a young girl growing up I had a great life. I loved going to the park and kicking the soccer ball with my dad. My dad was always there to read me stories before bed, help me with my homework and on certain nights we would have a game of Yahtzee.

I remember my dad joining the army, it had always been his dream and he used to talk it about with so much pride. I remember him loving his job, he wasn’t home much but when he was he always had time for me.

Things changed when he came back from East Timor in 2001. My dad left to go overseas to fight for our country and never came back.

What did come back was the shell of him, but he wasn’t inside, he wasn’t my dad. 

It wasn’t until 2017 that I leant he was given a drug called Tafenoquine and after reading about it, everything that was happening with my dad made sense. This wasn’t PTSD, this was poison.

I might have only been 6, but I remember like it was yesterday. My father turned to alcohol to cope, he was rarely home and this affected me deeply.

He was constantly in and out of hospital and rehabilitation centres, and still is to this day. I was lucky to have such a strong mother, but I grew up a lot faster then what I should have, having to help my mum with my younger siblings while dad wasn’t around.

I was put into counseling at the young age of 10. I was depressed, and had bad anxiety as I was constantly walking on eggshells waiting for the bomb to blow. 
I left home at the age of 15. I struggled concentrating in school as I was always worrying about what was going on at home and always had the fear of getting a call to say my dad had taken his life.

I could never understand why my dad was the way he was. I researched a lot about PTSD over the years. I knew everything about it, but with my dad deteriorating I knew there was more to it.

After dad having more hospital admissions I was still struggling to cope and turned to drugs. Still to this day i struggle with my own mental issues as a result of the way he is. 17 years later there has been minimal improvement with his mental state. I have read up a lot about the drug he was given, and read many stories that others have shared, and I know deep in my heart the drug Tafenoquine is to blame for making him like this.

I will never get my father back that I knew as a young girl, and every girl needs their father.

He was mistreated and used as a guinea pig along with many other people who served out country.

Is this your way of saying thank you for keeping our country safe?

By leaving them like this without any help or explanation?

Yours Sincerely,

Angela King

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to post more testimonies like these, highlighting not only the personal impact of tafenoquine on the affected service personnel and their families, but the systematic fraud, abuse and corruption which paved the way for this drug to be approved by drug regulatory agencies including the FDA and the Australian TGA.

Senior Australian Army doctor accused of culpability over the deaths of tafenoquine and mefloquine drug trial subjects

Australian Army Major Stuart McCarthy in 2015

Vice Admiral Griggs cannot wash his hands of this, try as he might. The ADF caused it, to our eternal shame. The AMI and the authors of those drug trial reports—among them the ADF’s director of military medicine, Colonel Leonard Brennan—bear direct responsibility for those deaths and the legacy of widespread chronic illness among coalition troops. 

Major Stuart McCarthy, testimony to Australian Senate inquiry, 2015

IN Bougainville and Timor, army medical officers also prescribed a drug known as tafenoquine to 1512 troops, even though it had not — and still has not — been approved for use by Australian authorities.

A series of allegations have now been made about the ethics of these trials and the impact they may have had on the mental health of the participants.

One serving army officer who took mefloquine, Major Stuart McCarthy, alleges the trials were “manifestly unethical” because officers compelled soldiers to take the drug without properly warning of the risks.

He’s supported by a US expert who believes the ADF trials were “deeply unethical”.

McCarthy alleges one commanding officer of troops headed for Timor told his men they would not be deployed unless they took part in the trial, which McCarthy says amounts to compulsion.

In evidence to a Senate committee last week, McCarthy named the ADF’s director of military medicine, Colonel Leonard Brennan, as having “direct responsibility” for the chronic illness and death of Australian and allied troops. Brennan is mentioned in academic journals as having been part of the “study team” that tested tafenoquine and he has co-authored articles about the testing of both drugs on soldiers.

Source: Paul Cleary, “Drug trial a test of ethics,” The Australian, September 11, 2015