Local News

New Research Finds No Link Between Accutane, Depression

Posted February 7, 2002

— Remember high school when everyone thought appearance was everything? Unfortunately, it is also the time when many teens are dealing with acne.

Some teens have nodular cystic acne, one of the most severe forms of acne. Many of those teens take the drug, Accutane.

"It's a small, small minority of teenagers who actually need the Accutane," Duke pediatrician Dr. Terril Bravender said.

When Accutane was approved in 1982, it was touted as a "miracle drug."

"I have a number of patients who have taken it and said it's life-changing," Bravender said.

Then came reports linking the drug to depression and suicide.

"Nobody knew at the time whether that was a real phenomenon or a function that really everyone was looking for it," Duke psychiatrist Dr. John March said.

For years, Accutane has carried a warning about the risk of depression, but no one really knew for sure if the drug caused depression until now. New research finds no link between Accutane and depression.

"There are several very large, carefully controlled studies that show the risk of becoming depressed when you're put on Accutane is no greater than if you're put on tetracycline," March said.

Bravender said he talks to patients and parents about the speculations about Accutane.

"Some people have heard about it. Some have not," he said. "I'll mention that they may read about it."

Psychiatrists claim this same research shows that even teens who are depressed and have acne can take Accutane.

"It's likely that it will get better as your acne gets better because acne itself is a risk factor for depression," March said.

Doctors said they still watch their patients carefully for any sign of depression. Accutane does have some side effects, the most serious being severe birth defects if a woman gets pregnant while taking Accutane, which is why most doctors require that they take birth control pills while on the acne medication.

Patients also have to have tried other acne medications without success before going on Accutane.


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