Expatica news

TNO tests drug to keep soldiers alert

2 March 2004

AMSTERDAM — After a court imposed a suspended sentence on Monday on two Dutch soldiers who fell asleep while on duty in Iraq, research organisation TNO said it is studying the effects of a drug that could keep soldiers awake for longer periods.

TNO said the work was part of a study commissioned by the Dutch Defence Ministry. The research bureau is investigating the circumstances under which soldiers are forced to carry out missions and the dangers of falling asleep.

Besides studying the effects of a medicine called modafinil — which is used to combat the sleeping disorder narcolepsy — the researchers are also examining work schedules and the use of caffeine pills, news agency ANP reported.

It has previously been revealed that some US soldiers have used modafinil and French soldiers are also alleged to have used the drug. America used amphetamines in World War II to maintain the alertness of its troops. 

Modafinil appears to have minor side-effects in the short-term and US studies have indicated that soldiers who use the drug can remain awake for 40 hours and sleep eight hours before remaining awake for another 40.

But doctors have raised fears about the health of soldiers who use the drug. Despite this, studies are currently being conducted in Britain and Australia, two of the nations who gave military assistance to the US in its invasion of Iraq.

Dutch military union AFMP is opposed to the use of medicine on healthy soldiers and is also against artificial methods designed to keep them alert. Government coalition party Democrat D66 has said the use of modafinil is “undesirable” and “risky”.

The largest coalition government member, the Christian Democrat CDA, has demanded answers from Defence Minister Henk Kamp. It has also asked him if Dutch soldiers are already using medication to enhance their alertness.

The management of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) placed modafinil on its list of banned drugs last year. The drug is a mood-brightening and memory-enhancing psycho stimulant which enhances wakefulness and vigilance.

The military chamber of Arnhem Court imposed a two-week suspended sentence on two Dutch marines who fell asleep at their guard posts while serving on peacekeeping duties in Iraq last year. The two soldiers were ordered to serve a 60-hour community work order.

There are presently 1,300 Dutch peacekeeping troops in southern Iraq and the Netherlands is also involved in operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news