Sgt. Mike Rude (Ret.) served several missions while in the Canadian Armed Forces with stops in Somalia, Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Now he’s on a new mission: to get the Canadian government to recognize the harm done to military personnel by the enforced prescription of the then-experimental anti-malarial drug, Mefloquine.
Troops deployed to postings where malaria was deemed a risk, such as Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan, were required to take Mefloquine, marketed as Lariam, starting in 1992.
It was supposed to be a pilot project, a study, but no consent was obtained from those receiving the drug, no warnings were issued as to the dangers of alcohol consumption, no monitoring was conducted before or after. And, says Sgt. Rude, the impacts of Mefloquine hydrochloride have been devastating.
A total of 34 ‘side effects,’ symptoms of Mefloquine poisoning, have been identified, including anxiety, paranoia, depression, hallucinations, psychotic behaviours and suicidal ideation – impacts that overlap with the symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
The Canadian Military, after initially claiming that there were no long-term effects, now only prescribes Mefloquine as a ‘drug of last resort.’ Health Canada states that Mefloquine poisoning can cause potentially permanent and disabling long-term conditions of the brain and brainstem.
But for those who were required to take Mefloquine while serving, the battle continues.
A class-action lawsuit launched in 2000 was dismissed for delay in 2018; the latest attempt to gain recognition of the condition and compensation, through a Mefloquine Mass Tort, may face new delays after the federal government recently opted to pursue damages from the drug’s manufacturer, Hoffman-LaRoche Ltd.
For Rude, who was given Mefloquine when he served with the Airborne Regiment in Somalia and again in Afghanistan, the delays and the tactics are unconscionable.
It’s why he has launched his Rude Awakening coast-to-coast tour, speaking on behalf of servicemen and women who became guinea pigs, and continue to suffer the results.
Initially, Rude was unaware of the potential impact of the drug he was given. “I had side effects. Diarrhea – I thought that was from eating rations. I couldn’t sleep - I thought that was the heat; it was 55 degrees C.”
It wasn’t until years later, at a town hall meeting in April of 2019, that Rude was able to tie his symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, to Mefloquine poisoning. “It was the suicidal ideation that brought me to the lawsuit,” he said.
There has been betrayal, on several levels, he says. Not only was no consent obtained from the troops who were given the experimental drug, there’s no sign that there was any serious scientific analysis.
“Was there anybody to monitor us? Was everyone taking it? Where’s the control?” Rude says.
“You don’t know what’s normal anymore.”
His new mission is simple: to raise awareness of Mefloquine poisoning, to have the Canadian government accept responsibility and to stop dragging veterans through court, recognize the need for support, and provide treatment.
The U.S. military recognizes the impact of Mefloquine poisoning, providing 100 percent disability for the victims. Why isn’t Canada following suit?
“People’s lives are being lost,” Rude says.
The Rude Awakening Tour started in British Columbia and has been moving eastward – with stops at Legions and war cemeteries across the country.
On Tuesday, Rude and his team were in Bradford, welcomed to the Bradford Legion for a special wreath-laying at the Legion’s cenotaph in memory of those who lost their fight with the depression and suicidal impulses linked to Mefloquine.
A small group of dignitaries – including serving troops, Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard, BWG Mayor Rob Keffer and Councillors Peter Dykie Jr. and Peter Ferragine – were on hand for the two-minute silence and wreath-laying.
“I am here to speak to the adverse effects of this deadly poisonous drug,” Rude said, and to “take the government to task” for its failure to acknowledge the impact of this “untested drug.”
“Nobody had an option,” Rude noted; service men and women were ordered to “take it or be charged.” Now, he said, “each one of those side effects leads to many other side effects,” especially the suicidal ideation recognized as a symptom by the manufacturer.
“I’ve attempted it twice,” Rude said. “There’s more of it going on than we realize.”
Sgt. Rude read the name, rank, age, theatre of service and date of death of 56 service men and women who have committed suicide, linked to Mefloquine consumption.
“They returned from war, but war never left them.”
Several of those who lost their ongoing battle with the long-term neurological impacts, and who eventually took their own lives, were personally known to Rude; their images adorn the truck that has carried him and his mission across the country.
“This whole trip isn’t about me. It’s about all the people suffering from Mefloquine poisoning,” he said, noting it's not just soldiers, but the civilians who have taken the drug to prevent malaria, without full information on its potential side effects.
Rude also thanked Brassard for his support, presenting a Battle Buddy certificate to both the MP, and to Legionnaire Matt Walker, who helped organize the ceremony at the cenotaph. Walker reaches out to touch base with Rude on a weekly basis.
After the ceremony, Brassard noted, “In my first posting as critic for Veterans Affairs, the issue of Mefloquine really came up. It became evident that Mefloquine toxicity was having an impact on our veterans who were ordered to take it.”
He called the evidence of harm “compelling,” and noted that Canada’s allies, including the U.S. and the U.K., have already conducted studies that have identified the side-effects, and recognize Mefloquine toxicity “as an occupational illness for our veterans.”
Brassard joined Rude in calling for further study by Canada, and recognition of the country’s responsibility to its veterans.
“It should be relatively easy to do because our allies have done most of the studies on the issue,” the MP said. What is needed now “is not just recognition from the Canadian government, but compensation and support as well.”
Brassard added, “I today believe, as I did three years ago when we called for an inquiry, it’s very much needed today.”
Then Rude packed up his medals, service dog Spark and his roll call of lost companions, and drove on to the next stop, trying to make Canadians aware of the dark shadow that an untested drug continues to cast on Canada’s military.
For more information on the 'Rude Awakening' Tour, click here.