May 16, 2005 -- A small study fails to link the use of the controversial acne drug Accutane to severe depression or suicide. The findings are reported in the May issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.
For years, critics have said Accutane can cause serious depression and increase suicide in teens. A U.S. congressman blames the drug for his teenage son's suicide five years ago, as does a Florida mother whose 15-year-old son died in 2002 after intentionally flying a small plane into a Tampa, Fla., skyscraper.
But the drug's manufacturer has long contended that Accutane does not increase the risk of depression and suicide, and a newly published study appears to back that up.
Teens in the study who took the drug showed far fewer signs of depression three and four months after beginning treatment than they did before starting Accutane.
"This certainly backs up what we have seen in our practices," pediatric dermatologist Elaine Siegfried, MD, tells WebMD. "Most dermatologists are in agreement that Accutane is a miracle drug for acne. I have treated many thousands of patients with it, and I have never seen clinically significant mood alterations in any of my treated patients."
Accutane was approved in 1982 for the treatment of serious acne that doesn't respond to other treatment. Its safety has been the subject of heated debate ever since. A synthetic derivative of vitamin A, the drug is well known to cause serious birth defects in up to a third of babies born to women who use it during pregnancy.
As a result, women of childbearing years who take Accutane are required to use at least two forms of birth control while on the drug.
But while Accutane has long been suspected of causing depression, there is no direct proof to back up the claim, says psychiatrist Douglas G. Jacobs, who is a consultant to the drug's manufacturer, Roche Labs. Roche is a WebMD sponsor.
"I have spent more time reviewing the studies than anyone and there is just no evidence that Accutane causes depression or increases the risk of suicide," Jacobs tells WebMD.