“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.

“There is blood on the hands of the Army Malaria Institute,” says retired Australian Army Warrant Officer and tafenoquine test subject

“THE fraud and corruption involved in these [tafenoquine and mefloquine] drug trials is huge,” said retired Australian Army Warrant Officer Colin Brock in his testimony to a 2018 Senate inquiry hearing in the northern Queensland garrison city of Townsville. “The lying and deceit is incomprehensible.”

Warrant Officer Colin Brock, serving in Afghanistan

In today’s post we return to the Australian Army Malaria Institute’s (AMI) notorious clinical trials of tafenoquine in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), East Timor and Australia at the turn of the century. As part of a commercial arrangement with the pharmaceutical industry which a former Director of the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) described in 2018 as “naive” and “desperate”, the Australian Defense Forces subjected almost 4,000 troops to a series of highly controversial antimalarial drug trials considered to have been “manifestly unethical.”

One of these trials was the AMI “Study 033” for tafenoquine vs mefloquine prophylaxis involving a total of 654 Australian troops from the Townsville-based 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) and supporting units. Among the 1 RAR battalion group soldiers deployed to the East Timor UN peacekeeping mission for seven months in 2000-2001, 492 were given the experimental drug tafenoquine, while a further 162 were given mefloquine.

Eight years after this trial, scientists from WRAIR (which developed both drugs) found that “tafenoquine is the only antimalarial more neurotoxic than mefloquine,” a drug from the same quinolines family, widely regarded as a suicide pill.

Mr Brock’s 20-year Army career included operational deployments to Somalia, East Timor and Afghanistan. During the East Timor peacekeeping deployment, then Corporal Brock commanded a mortar section of nine soldiers. He was one of dozens of drug trial subjects who testified to the Senate inquiry, and one of more than a hundred who made written submissions. Here are some highlights from his hard-hitting testimony, which can be found in full here.

At the beginning of the year 2000, 1 RAR was warned out for deployment to East Timor. I was a section commander in Mortar Platoon, Support Company. My section consisted of nine men, including me.

I am not sure of the specific date—I think it was sometime in September 2000—a battalion parade was held on the main parade ground of 1 RAR. We were formed up in companies and the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari, briefed the battalion on a new malaria drug or drugs that we all were to take to prevent malaria. We were told that it was a trial to benefit the Defence Force. I now know the drugs to be mefloquine and tafenoquine. Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari then informed the battalion, ‘This drug is voluntary, but if you do not consent to take this drug, you will not deploy to East Timor.’ I can categorically state, 100 per cent, that he did say this. There was numerous talk about it after the parade. No-one in the battalion was going to say, ‘No, we won’t take it,’ as everyone wanted to deploy. If you knew about the Army culture, that is what you would want to do. If we knew of the consequences of these drugs, I and a lot of others would have told them to find someone else.

In my later years in Defence, I knew there was something not right with me. I thought it might have been PTSD, as I’d completed numerous deployments to some of the worst countries on Earth, but it was something else. My hearing was failing. There was ringing in my ears. I was having dizzy spells; vertigo issues, which I still have today; bouts of depression and anxiety; and anger issues. But, like a lot of people in Defence, you just put up with it. I loved being deployed, and nothing really fazed me.

I think it was in March 2016 that a forum was held at the Townsville RSL, which I attended with a number of other people who were severely affected by these drugs. A number of dignitaries attended, with key speakers and subject matter experts. Defence was represented by Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart, Commander Joint Health. I have no words for Tracy Smart. All she did was deny any wrongdoing by Defence, saying the drug trials were conducting morally and ethically, and there was nothing wrong with us. She had no answers for us, just denial. One of my close friends, Chris Styles, had an open argument with her at the forum which was captured on visual and audio. Chris committed suicide less than two months later. Tracy Smart is a Defence toe-the-line person. She is fully aware of these drugs and does not care.

In May 2016, I was contacted by Brigadier Andrew Dunn as part of the IGADF inquiry into allegations of unethical and unlawful use of antimalarial drugs in Defence. This was a phone interview which lasted around 90 minutes. I answered truthfully all the questions asked of me. I have a clear recollection of these events, and one in particular. The main question I was asked was: what did Lieutenant Colonel John Caligari say on the parade ground as to the drug being voluntary? I answered: ‘John Caligari said, “The drug trial is voluntary, but if you do not consent to the trial you will not deploy to East Timor.”‘ As I said, I am 100 per cent correct that I heard this. I would not lie about this. I know the man’s reputation is at stake; I would not lie.

I received the findings for my part in this inquiry a while later. The report suggests that I basically lied to the inquiry—and so did four or five others that were with us—finding that John Caligari had never said those words. I was gobsmacked. He was an officer I respected, trusted and looked up to, as I had worked for him again in later years. He categorically denied it. There are hundreds of people from that 1 RAR parade ground who will agree with me. We are not liars. What would I have to gain by saying this? Nothing. Also, if you look at submission No.80, I don’t know if you have that with you, what he’s said in there—I saw that the other day in the submissions—is what I’m saying.

Everyone affected by these drugs wants answers. My section in East Timor consisted of nine fit men. Six out of the nine are now experiencing all of these symptoms and are unable to work; that’s a 75 per cent ratio. Why were Defence used as guinea pigs? Why were we forced to take these drugs? What do we have to do to get help—more suicides? There is blood on the hands of the malaria institute, Defence and the leaders of these so-called trials. I personally have been to two funerals as a direct result of these horrendous drugs, and it will keep happening. Just three days ago a former member of 1 RAR who was on these trials committed suicide. That was three days ago. It’s still happening. The fraud and corruption involved in these trials is huge. The lying and deceit is incomprehensible. People and organisations need to be held accountable for the damage they have done to hundreds if not thousands of officers and soldiers.

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting the testimonies of some of the thousands of ADF personnel who were subjected to these drug trials, which have been described as “the most shameful chapter in the recent history of the ADF.” Over the coming weeks we will post more of these first hand testimonies, from the subjects of the unethical drug trials which provided much of the basis for the 2018 regulatory approvals of Arakoda® in the US and Kodatef® in Australia. The evidence we already have is sufficient to prove that the official report from Study 033 and some of the other AMI tafenoquine trials are fraudulent.

Curtin University (Perth, Australia) response to query regarding possible involvement in the Linear Clinical Research tafenoquine long-term safety study

LAST week, after a tip-off from a reader in Australia who had been raising safety concerns with universities in Perth regarding the tafenoquine study currently being undertaken by Linear Clinical Research, I sent a query to the Curtin University research office.

This is the response from a Curtin University spokesperson, in full:

Curtin University has absolutely no involvement in the clinical trial, called Long-Term Safety Study of Tafenoquine, being run by Linear Clinical Research and 60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals. Curtin is not currently undertaking any clinical trials related to tafenoquine.

The Curtin staff member you contacted has had no involvement at all in the development of tafenoquine.

ENDS

Curtin University, Perth, Australia