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Debate rages over Accutane benefits

As science advances in today’s society many different drugs are being discovered to treat acne of all stages. Although some medications can have rather tremendous side effects many people still persist in taking prescriptions recommended by their dermatologist.

Accutane (isotretinoin) has had been prescribed to 12 million people worldwide since its introduction in 1982. It still remains the most effective solution to the most severe forms of acne.

“Accutane is not for everybody. It is for the people who are resistant to typical treatments,” Johnny K. Dang, local MD and Pharm. D, said. “If you are on Accutane, you should have your doctor monitor you regularly.”

While taking Accutane, patients are required to have monthly checkups with their doctors, which include liver tests, blood tests and pregnancy tests for women.

Although Accutane may change outside appearance, questions still are being asked why. For some consumers, their emotional stability changes as well as their appearance.

Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, believes that Accutane may have contributed to his son’s sudden suicide.

“I doubt that any patient with a serious acne problem assumes the worst when a physician prescribes a medication that may relieve their acne,” Stupak said. “However, the experience of many patients, families and physicians who have contacted me since last October, lead me to believe that there is a real risk of life-threatening side effects. These (riskes) were not adequately understood by patients and health care professionals.”

In spite of the experience of the Stupak family, reports to the Food and Drug Administration by physicians indicate that less than .00001% of those taking the drug have committed suicide while using, or within a few months of not using medication.

A Feb.7 Feather poll showed that out of 188 student responses, 160 are currently not taking Accutane while 28 are taking the drug.

Most consumers seem to experience more common side effects, such as dry skin, chapped lips, increased pressure to the brain, irritation of eyelids, joint and muscle pain and increased sensitivity to sunburn.

“I don’t think people should blame depression on the drug itself,” Nick Jones, ’02, said. “When I was taking it, I was not overly depressed. I think it all depends on the person and the life that they live. Taking the drug did affect my life a lot because I couldn’t be out in the sun for along time and participate in some basketball activities. I didn’t get a lot of serious side affects just chapped lips, muscle pain and dry skin. In the end it is all worth it.”

However, the majority of consumers seem to only have mild side effects.

“We have had no patients with depression,” Barbara Neitman, registered nurse for Dr. Salma Simjee, said. “We do not think it is the Accutane that makes them depressed but that is it the way they look.”

Some theories stand that with or without Accutane depression can be caused because of the appearance of acne.

“I had it really bad my freshman and sophomore year. I took Accutane all throughout my sophomore year,” Ericlee Gilmore, algebra teacher and head track coach, said. “After taking Accutane I was more self confident about talking face to face with people and not worrying about a zit on my face. I still have to worry about the sun so I always wear a hat during track season.”

Other than Accutane many topical (lotions or gels) are known to relieve some symptoms of mild acne. To treat acne and make money, the Central California Medical Research Center and Atrix is looking for people with acne to use their medication, Dapsone, instead of Accutane.

“This is the first time this medication has been made into a cream,” Gloria Roiguez, an employee of the Central California Medical Research, said. “Volunteers to our program must be 12 years or older. The patient must have 20 pimples that are flared and 10 must be on the face. Every person gets $20 per visit and will be scheduled to come for a total of seven visits. Many tests will be administered for liver problems and skin cancer. A full log of all side affects on each patient will be kept.”

For those interested in participating in the medical study, contact Roiguez at 438-1937 or go online at and type key word “Accutane” or go to for more information and new warnings on the drug.

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