Ten suicides this year are linked to powerful acne drug Roaccutane, figures show

Ten suicides this year are linked to powerful acne drug Roaccutane as medicines watchdog launches probe over safety fears

  • Acne drug Roaccutane has this year been linked to ten suicides, figures show
  • Twelve deaths recorded by people prescribed the drug, ten had taken own life 
  • Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is carrying out review 
  • The figure is up from five fatalities in 2018, and the highest since records began 

By James Wood and Jack Elsom For Mailonline

Published: | Updated:

A powerful acne drug has this year been linked to ten suicides which is the highest since records began, figures show.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency statistics show 12 deaths were recorded by people who had been prescribed Roaccutane, ten who had taken their own life.

The figure is up from five fatalities the year before, and is the highest since the statistics were first recorded in 1983.

The MHRA, which governs the safety of Roaccutane, a brand name of the drug isotretinoin, said a task group is looking at the data showing the risk of suicide and to consider if further regulatory action is needed.

Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people at some point. It causes spots, oily skin and sometimes skin that’s hot or painful to touch

It comes after the suspected suicide of Annabel Wright this year, whose parents have blamed the drug for her passing.    

And in 2017, the parents of Luke Reeves said they thought a four-month course of Roaccutane led to his death - after it made him become irrational and lethargic.

His father Robert Reeves, 50, accused drug manufacturers Roche of ‘murdering people’ as he told Essex Coroner’s Court that Luke’s personality completely changed.  

Talented horseman Jack Bowlby, 16, also experienced ‘very dark thoughts’ and violent mood swings after beginning a course of Roaccutane to clear his skin, a inquest heard in 2013. 

He was discovered dead in his dormitory room at prestigious independent school Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire at 7am on October 12 in 2012. 

Roaccutane, the brand name the drug isotretinoin is most commonly marketed under, is used by about 30,000 people in the UK each year.

The NHS states that isotretinoin capsules are a very effective treatment for severe acne(spots).

Luke Reeves, 21, became irrational and lethargic as a four-month course of Roaccutane drastically changed his personality, an inquest into his death heard

Links between Roaccutane and depression are widely talked about (pictured, the Roaccutane drug)

But it adds that the medicine can have serious side effects and so it must be prescribed and supervised by a specialist doctor.

It notes that severe side effects can include anxiety, aggression and violence, changes in mood, or suicidal thoughts - these can be signs of depression or other mental health problems. 

Links between Roaccutane and depression are widely talked about.

But despite doctors being aware of the issue scientific studies have so far been unable to prove that Roaccutane causes psychiatric changes or suicidal thoughts.

However it is deemed as extremely effective in treating acne.

It has a 95 per cent success rate in clearing up acne in four to six months and around 70 per cent of those who take it say they never suffer from acne again after it. 

The MHRA has said the safety of isotretinoin was kept under continuous review in the UK and across Europe. The NHS says the drug is only recommended for severe cases of acne that have not responded to other treatments. 

Roche told The Guardian that millions of patients take isotretinoin, but ‘like most medications, it can have side-effects’.

‘That is why we recommend it is prescribed carefully, with particular consideration regarding any previous history of depression, that patients understand what to expect when they take it and that they are monitored closely to ensure they get the care they need.’

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.


Roaccutane, or Isotretinoin, belongs to a group of medicines known as retinoids, which are substances related to vitamin A.

It is used to treat acne which is severe, or which has not got better with other treatments such as oral antibiotics or skin treatments.

The drug works by reducing the production of your skin’s natural oil. It is also thought to reduce inflammation. Isotretinoin capsules will be prescribed for you by a specialist skin doctor.

In general, many side effects associated with isotretinoin are similar to those associated with very high doses of vitamin A.

Gastrointestinal side effects have included inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, bleeding and inflammation of the gums, colitis, esophagitis/esophageal ulceration, ileitis, nausea, and other nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms.

Reported common side effects include:

  • burning, redness, itching, or other signs of eye inflammation
  • bone or joint pain
  • difficulty moving
  • nosebleeds
  • scaling, redness, burning, pain, or other signs of inflammation of the lips
  • skin infection or rash

Reported rare side effects include:

  • Abdominal or stomach pain (severe)
  • attempts at suicide or thoughts of suicide (usually stops after medicine is stopped)
  • back pain
  • bleeding or inflammation of the gums
  • blurred vision or other changes in vision
  • changes in behavior

Sources: Drugs.com and Patient


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