Accutane boasts it can cure acne. Is it worth the risks?

By on April 6, 2005

Dan Norup’s dad had acne and was scarred from it. Dan also developed a moderate case of stubborn acne that he just could not kick.

“I was on Retin-A for a while and some kind of day cream but it only lessened the acne it never completely cured it,” Norup, the sophomore finance major, said. “My dermatologist recommended I go on it because she was afraid that I would start scarring.”

Accutane is a controversial acne “cure-all” that limits the production of sebum, an oil that causes severe acne. Although it is generally prescribed to patients with nodular acne, large, red clusters of pimples that have the potential to leave dark scars, it can also be given to patients who have mild or moderate acne.

The drug was first developed following the discovery of a derivative of retinoic acid [Retin-A], called isotretinoin. The pharmaceutical company, Hoffman-LaRoche, released isotretinoin, labeled Accutane, in 1982.

The “miracle” pill got a warm reception from acne sufferers until some of the patients began committing suicide.

In 1984 the first “accutane-related” suicide was reported to the Food and Drug Administration. Shortly after, many more patents’ families came forward claiming that Accutane had caused depression in their children. Although there has been numerous studies conducted to decipher the relationship between depression and Accutane, no concrete result has been found.

“My dermatologist was like, ‘I don’t know why kids are getting depressed, their faces are cleared up!’ If something like that happens once they have to add it to the list of side effects,” Norup said. He said that while on the drug he did not experience any of the serious side effects he was warned about.

“I got really nervous at first,” Norup said. “They give you this pamphlet and make you sign a waiver and stuff but absolutely nothing happened.

The only inconvenience was his very chapped lips.

“My lips got really bad. I still carry chapstick around with me now even though I’m off it,” Norup said.

According to the official Accutane brochure entitled “Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Sure,” other possible serious side effects include permanent or temporary loss of hearing or vision, damage to internal organs, pressure on the brain, bone, muscle, or joint pain, a development of high cholesterol and allergic reactions to the medication. These side effects have only been reported in a small percentage of people.

Some less serious side effects may include dry, chapped lips, skin, eyes and nose. The brochure focuses especially on women who are thinking of taking Accutane. If a woman becomes pregnant while on the drug the fetus can suffer a myriad of severe birth defects or the woman canhave a miscarriage.

Before taking Accutane, all prospective patients must receive a blood test. They also must receive monthly blood tests after starting to take the drug.

Norup took Accutane for six months. “During the first few months my face flared up really bad,” Norup said. “But that happens with any acne medication, and after those two months hit it just started getting clearer and clearer.”

In most cases, patients’ acne is cleared forever. According to the pamphlet, 10 percent of patients reported getting their acne back after they stopped taking Accutane.

Norup is happy with his results. He now has a completely acne-free complexion.

“I love it. I was scared at first with all of the warnings but I would definitely recommend it. The results were worth it,” Norup said.


About Dana Owen