How Being a Drug Trial Guinea Pig Changed My Life – Part 1

I often refer to my experience as a guinea pig for the ADF drug trial for Tafenoquine, how it has impacted my life and is one of the major reasons why I am standing as a candidate for IMOP. So sit back, make yourself comfortable and let me tell you my story so that you can better understand why choice and full disclosure wherever there is risk must be a right afforded to every citizen of not just Australia but the world.
The year was 2000 and I had been a soldier for only four years when I received notification that I had been selected for a deployment, along with soldiers from 1RAR, for a peace-keeping mission to East Timor. I was so excited that I had been chosen and that I would be putting my training as a heavy vehicle mechanic, a job I loved, into practice. I was 25 years old. This was the first time I had deployed, actually it was going to be my first overseas trip. I found the whole process was quite overwhelming especially being the only female tradesman in the group.
Preparing for the deployment required specific training and testing, including medical tests and it was during this time I was asked to take part in a drug trial. One of the stipulations for deploying was that we all had to be on an anti-malarial drug so prescriptions were handed out. Having never travelled overseas before this was all new to me. What I find interesting is that after speaking with others from my deployment some were asked to take part in the drug trial and others were told they were taking part (voluntold). It depended on which parade you were at as to which instruction you received.
In the defence force, from your first day of basic training, you are trained to say yes, trained to volunteer and trained to do what you are told. It’s hard for non-defence personnel to understand how this indoctrination process reprograms you and creates the living machine they want you to be.
The drug trial was explained to me, and what I took from that explanation was:
• This drug (tafenoquine) was nearly fully approved having already gone through rigorous testing.
• My help was greatly appreciated and I would be saving countless lives by being involved.
• Being on the drug trial was going to be better than the standard anti-malarial drugs I would have to take if I did not participate.
• I may be taking one of the drug trial drugs, even if I didn’t volunteer to be part of the drug trial, which I interpreted as “ we won’t be monitoring you if you don’t agree to participate”.
• The placebo group would be taking mefloquine. Note: A placebo is a substance or treatment which is designed to have no therapeutic value so why was the “placebo” group given another anti-malarial drug?
• The side effects would probably be short term and minimal, just abdominal issues like vomiting and/or diarrhoea, were all that was mentioned. No mention of watching your mates for weird behaviour, no mention of watching your own mental health, no mention that you may never be able to sleep again.
I was then given a consent to participate form to read and sign, sat in front of a grumpy officer I had never met before and gruffly asked “did you read the document properly – sign it!” I signed it and got out of there as quickly as I could. Officers were scary to me then, to be honest, any rank from sergeant and above made me jittery. Why did I sign? After four years of being conditioned to say yes, being young and naïve, not truly understanding the ramifications and being overwhelmed by the whole process, including the officer sitting in front of me, I didn’t feel as though I could say no. It was my duty after all, this is what I had signed up for, to serve my country. I trusted the Army and believed that they would look after me, that they cared about me and anything they needed to do would be in my best interests.
Looking back with 20 years of hindsight I wish I had said no, but I just didn’t realise at the time that I had a choice, that I could make my own decision and not just jump on command as I had been conditioned to do.
Part 2 tomorrow…
VOTE 1 Toni McMahon
VOTE 1 IMOP at the QLD state election 31 Oct 2020
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