Suicides Linked to Acne Drug Roaccutane

December 27, 2019

Expert working group to re-examine safety of drug used by about 30,000 people a year.

Ten suicides this year have been linked to a powerful acne drug as the medicines regulator reopens an inquiry into it after being contacted by patients.

Twelve deaths were recorded in 2019, 10 by suicide, by people who had been prescribed Roaccutane, according to data from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The figure is up from five fatalities the year before and is the highest since records began in 1983. However, the MHRA noted that the reaction may not have occurred that year but only been reported then.

This year, Channel 4 reported about the death of Annabel Wright, with her parents Helen and Simon blaming the drug for her death, although the exact cause is yet to be confirmed.

In 2017, the parents of Luke Reeves said they believed their son’s death was linked to Roaccutane. A coroner ruled that Luke, who was found dead in his bedroom, killed himself by taking a drugs overdose in April 2017.

Robert Reeves, 50, told the hearing at Essex coroner’s court that Luke’s personality had completely changed.

In October 2012, Jack Bowlby took his life, aged 16. His parents expressed the same concerns as those of Luke Reeves. At the coroner’s inquest, one expert speculated that Jack would still be alive if he had not taken the drug.

Roaccutane, a brand name of the drug isotretinoin, is used by about 30,000 people in the UK each year. Data from NHS Digital shows prescriptions for isotretinoin rose from 34,283 to 69,040 between 2008 and 2018.

Also manufactured under the name Accutane, the drug is often credited with yielding miraculous results at clearing people’s skin.

While studies have not found a clear or direct link with increased risk of psychiatric disorders and suicide, side-effects have been noted.

Data from the MHRA’s yellow card reporting scheme – a website for reporting adverse drug reactions – recorded 12 fatalities in 2019, 85 serious incidents and 19 non-serious ones. Since records began there have been 88 deaths.

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