An agency of the UK Ministry of Defence, the Defence Medical Supplies Agency, has admitted for the first time, buying supplies of the drug Provigil,
licenced in the UK only for use with patients with rare sleeping disorders. The drug can be used to keep aircrew and special forces awake for very
When questioned, the MOD denied that the drug was given to members of the Armed Forces but were unable to explain the reasons for the purchases of the
The UK purchases of the drug, Provigil, started in 1998and peaked before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US military have researched Provigil and found that people could still function after being awake for 85 hours if given the drug.
MoD bought thousands of stay awake pills in advance of war in Iraq
Ian Sample and Rob Evans
Thursday July 29, 2004
A controversial drug which can keep people awake for days has been bought in significant quantities by the Ministry of Defence, the Guardian has
The MoD has admitted to buying more than 24,000 Provigil pills, which are licensed in Britain only to help people with rare sleeping disorders shrug
off daytime sleepiness. Experts say the drug could be used "off licence" to keep pilots and special forces troops awake on little sleep.
According to figures from the Defence Medical Supplies Agency, which provides medical products "to sustain UK military capability", the MoD has been
buying the drug since 1998 at prices at least 10% lower than those charged to the NHS.
The figures, which were released to the Guardian under the open government code, show that purchases peaked with an order for more than 5,000 pills in
2001, the year allied forces entered Afghanistan. The next largest order - for more than 4,000 pills - was delivered in 2002, the year before troops
entered Iraq. In total, the ministry has spent more than £43,000 on the drugs.
The use of controversial stimulants by the US military was highlighted after an incident in April 2002 near Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Two US F-16 pilots, Major Harry Schmidt and Major William Umbach, mistakenly bombed a Canadian infantry unit, killing four and injuring eight. In the
ensuing legal discussions, the pilots' lawyers said that the airmen had felt pressured into taking amphetamine before the mission.
Precisely how Provigil works is unknown, even to its developers. According to some reports, common side effects include nervousness, insomnia,
excitation, irritability, tremors, dizziness and headaches. It may also cause "gastrointestinal disturbances", including nausea and abdominal pain,
and cardiovascular effects such as high blood pressure and palpitations.
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While the use of stimulants to keep aircrew and certain military units awake has been around for a very long time it is no substitute for increased
numbers of fresh military personnel.
Giving the armed forces an untested drug is courting disaster. Especially as Provigil's own manufacturers admit they don't understand how it
[edit on 7-29-2004 by Valhall]