Pentagon: Drug may be linked to Gulf War Syndrome
Report says more study needed on anti-nerve gas drug
October 19, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A drug given to U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf War to protect against a nerve gas may be linked to ailments now known as Gulf War Syndrome, the Pentagon said Tuesday, acknowledging what some medical researchers and veterans have long suspected.
A study of scientific literature about pyriostigmine bromide -- or PB -- found that the drug "cannot be ruled out" as the cause for an array of symptoms. They include chronic pain, digestive problems, nausea, skin rashes, fatigue, aching joints, memory loss and concentration problems suffered by thousands of veterans of the 1990-91 war.
Future use of drug possible
While Pentagon officials said they will still consider using the drug as an antidote for the nerve gas soman, military leaders "would be very judicious in deciding whether to use PB in the future," said Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
"The decision would involve weighing concerns about possible long-term health effects with a threat-risk assessment of how likely it is that soman would be used against our troops," she said.
Earlier government studies had ruled out PB as a possible cause of Gulf War Syndrome but now, "we simply don't know," said the 385-page report's author, Dr. Beatrice Alexandra Golomb of Rand Corp., a California research institute.
The findings do not necessarily mean PB caused the symptoms, "only that the possibility cannot be dismissed," wrote Golomb, a physician at San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Further study suggested
Golomb and Bailey were joined at a Pentagon news conference by Dr. Bernard Rostker, the undersecretary of the army who is the Pentagon's senior official overseeing Gulf War illnesses.
"This report is very helpful in framing the problem for future study," Bailey said. "Dr. Golomb and I agree that further research regarding these theories is clearly necessary."
According to the report, areas for further study include:
Whether individual people react differently to PB
Whether people who have a negative initial reaction are more likely to suffer negative long-term effects
Whether stress can change the way the drug enters the brain
Whether environmental factors in the Gulf caused the U.S. supply of PB to become toxic
Whether PB was administered in proper dosages
Whether a person's weight might be a factor to assure proper dosage
PB was given to about 250,000 of the nearly 700,000 American troops sent to the Persian Gulf as protection against soman, a lethal, fast-acting nerve agent produced by the former Soviet Union and believed at the time to have been part of Iraq's arsenal.
"There is no antidote without PB," said Bailey.
Of $133 million spent by the Pentagon researching Gulf War syndrome, it has earmarked about $20 million to specifically to study the effects of the drug.
Mission accomplished, U.N. disarmament team leaves Iraq
U.S. Department of Defense
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