Suicides linked with acne drug (roaccutane)
by Lois Rogers

Medical Correspondent


DRUG safety agencies are investigating an acne treatment prescribed to thousands of teenagers after reports linking it to a growing number of suicides.

Data collected by the World Health Organisation indicates that the drug Roaccutane has been implicated in 720 reports of psychiatric problems, including more than 100 suicides and suicide attempts.

Figures supplied by Roche, the manufacturer, show that it has received reports of 84 suicides and suicide attempts.

The parents of one university student who killed himself after he sank into depression while taking the drug are demanding an independent inquiry. Henry Boyle, a Dublin accountant whose son Conor, 20, (not their real names) died last June, said the drug had cleared his son’s acne but he became depressed. "Conor never showed the slightest sign of depression before taking Roaccutane, he just completely changed," he said.

The son of the actor Richard Todd, Seumas, committed suicide while he was taking the drug. Last week, Todd, 78, said: ‘People should be aware of the signs of depression and the need to look out for it in these circumstances.’’

One family is now taking legal action against Roche for compensation after their son suffered profound depression.


The 18-year-old media studies student from Truro, Cornwall. said he was put on an extra high dose of Roaccutane. "I felt suicidal. I have never experienced a worse period of my life," he said. "I could hardly bear to get out of bed. When I stopped taking the drug the depression went away.’

Last month the American Food and Drug Administration began an investigation and issued a warning to doctors after it was alerted to 12 suicides linked to the drug.

Professor Gary Peck, who led a Roaccutane research project at the American National Institutes of Health, said he found 1% of 700 patients given the drug developed severe depression. "I believe this is a real but rare effect."

Roche Products in Britain said 8m people worldwide have taken the drug since its launch 15 years ago. "We have had a few reports of depression and suicide but we do not think there is a causal link," said Janet Stead, a company medical adviser.

However, Roche has agreed to include a depression warning on the drug in America and is in discussion with regulatory authorities in Britain.