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Drug used in Gulf found to be ineffective

March 18, 1998

Drug used in Gulf found to be ineffective

WASHINGTON - In response to questioning by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the Department of Defense for the first time has acknowledged that an experimental drug administered to American soldiers serving in the Gulf War should not have been used against the nerve agent Sarin, according to a press release from Rockefeller's office.

In a Monday letter, and in answer to questions at a hearing Tuesday, department of officials said the use of pyridostygmine bromide should be limited in any future U.S. deployments.

It should be used when "intelligence indicates imminent use of the nerve agents Soman or Tabun against U.S. forces," or when there is "actual use of Soman or Tabun in theater," the release stated.

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In the 1990-91 Gulf War, Sarin was the suspected agent.

The Department of Defense gave PB to all U.S. troops serving in the Persian Gulf despite U.S. intelligence reports that Iraqis had the nerve gas Sarin, according to the press release.

As department witnesses and their letter acknowledge, PB is not effective against Sarin, according to the press release. In fact, research indicates treating Sarin exposure with PB may harm, not help victims, the release said.

Department witnesses also acknowledged that PB should be used, much like insulin, in a controlled and limited fashion, according to Rockefeller's office.

"The DOD has finally acknowledged that our troops were given a drug to protect against a nerve agent they knew the enemy did not have," Rockefeller said in the release.

"That this happened to our troops is very disturbing. That it took the DOD seven years to admit their error is inconceivable. But I am hopeful that DOD's admission marks the beginning of new, more open and more comprehensive efforts to protect the health of our troops.

"PB, in combination with other environmental factors in the Gulf, may be behind the illnesses facing many of our veterans today," Rockefeller said in the release. "What's tragic is that our troops should never have been given the drug in the first place."

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