Roaccutane: Warnings over acne drug linked to suicide risk after prescriptions rise sixfold in a decade

Drug also known as isotretinoin may increase risk of depression and suicidal thoughts

Katie Forster
Wednesday 10 May 2017 08:38 BST
Acne is a very common skin condition that usually starts during puberty
Acne is a very common skin condition that usually starts during puberty (Getty Images / iStock)

Parents and campaigners have warned about about the potentially devastating side-effects of a powerful drug used to treat acne after a sharp rise in prescriptions over the last decade.

Roaccutane, also known as isotretinoin, has been linked to an increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Prescriptions of the drug have increased more than sixfold in the last 10 years, reported The Times – from 6,522 in 2006 to 48,997 in 2016.

A spokesperson from the organisation Adverse Psychiatric Reactions Information Link told the newspaper the drug is being overused by doctors who give it out “like sweets” without due consideration for its possible adverse effects.

But dermatologists said the benefits of roaccutane, which is very effective at clearing severe acne, outweigh the risks and rising prescription rates should be seen as a problem if patients are monitored.

The families of two young men who took their own lives after taking the drug said the medication led to a significant change in their personalities.

Robert Reeves, the father of 21-year-old Luke Reeves who died just two weeks ago, said his son became “more withdrawn” while taking a four-month course of the drug to treat his acne aged 16.

Acne drug Roaccutane (Getty Images)

“From a bouncy get up in the morning kind of kid, he just wasn't up for things in the same way,” he told ITV. “He started to develop OCD about various things and he started to be kind of irrational in logic the decisions he was making”.

Patient leaflets for roaccutane state that one in every 1000 people who take it may be affected by depression or related disorders, with one in around 10,000 considering harming themselves or taking their own life.

“As long as it is prescribed by somebody experienced and is monitoring for depression, it is fine — as long as we are having informed conversations with patients and their parents,” a spokeswoman for the British Skin Foundation told The Times.

“There are really no other drugs that are so effective as Roaccutane if you have severe acne.“

Roaccutane is usually prescribed when other treatments for severe acne, such as medicated creams, antibiotics and the contraceptive pill, have failed.

The anti-inflammatory drug is a derivative of vitamin A and works by reducing the skin’s oil production and the number of bacteria living on the skin.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a rare warning in 2014 over roaccutane’s side effects.

It recommended the benefits of the drug be carefully weighed in comparison to the risk of psychiatric disorders, especially in patients with a history of depression.

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