Use of Prescription Acne Drug Soaring

From the WebMD Archives

May 13, 2002 -- Use of the powerful prescription acne drug Accutane has skyrocketed in recent years, despite controversy surrounding its side effects. In fact, a new study shows the drug is increasingly being used to treat milder forms of acne -- even though it has only been approved to treat severe cases.

According to research conducted by the FDA, the number of prescriptions filled at pharmacies rose by 250% between 1992 and 2000, and by 275% among users of major health plans.

Meanwhile, the percentage of those who used the drug to treat severe acne dropped from 63% to 46% during the same period. And the proportion of Accutane use for mild-to-moderate acne jumped from 31% to 49%.

Accutane was FDA approved in 1982 for the treatment of severe acne that has not responded to other treatments.

The drug has been in the news in recent years after the FDA sent a letter to physicians in 1998 warning them that use of Accutane may be linked to a higher risk of depression and suicide. However, more recent research has disputed such a link.

The most serious side effect associated with Accutane is birth defects in women who become pregnant while taking the drug. Women are advised to use effective birth control methods while using Accutane.

The researchers also found that the drug is being used by nearly equal numbers of males and females. The majority (63%) of male users were 15-19 years old. Slightly more than half of the female users were between 15 and 24 years old.

The study appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
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