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Congressman's Family Uses Clout to Raise Accutane Awareness

Feb 3, 2006 |

The possible dangerous side effects of Accutane have been in the news for some time. Doctors say the drug prescribed for severe acne can cause depression and even suicidal thoughts.

A Menasha couple is warning parents not to agree to Accutane prescriptions for their children. Their son, Justin Zimmer, took his life last month, less than four weeks after he began using the drug (see related story), and they say there were never any warning signs.

U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak of Menominee, Michigan, and his family went through a similar situation almost six years ago. Stupak's son was 17 and using Accutane when he killed himself.

B.J. Stupak was an all-American boy in high school. Besides having tons of friends, he was active in football, baseball, and student council. On the morning after his junior prom in May, 2000, he did something that nobody saw coming.

"He went upstairs. I had kept a handgun in my nightstand, which I kept for security, safety reasons, and he somehow took the handgun and shot himself," his mother, Laurie Stupak, recalled.

His devastated family could not find an answer to the question why. "We had never gotten any type of warning whatsoever."

His mother was in search of answers so she did some research on the Internet.

"Typed in the word 'Accutane' and that's when I found links between Accutane and depression and suicide."

The family says they were never warned of that information. Since then, the Stupaks have utilized their political power to get the word out.

"Our ultimate goal is to prevent tragedies occurring for other families," she said.

The fight is paying off somewhat. Since August 2005, the drug's packaged label information has read "Accutane may cause depression and rarely suicide." Nonetheless, many have been injured experiencing long-term depression and suicidal thoughts. Some people succeeded in their attempts to commit suicide. Their relatives and friends may ponder over punishing the negligent manufacturer by way of retaining an Accutane attorney in order to file lawsuits against Roche.

The Food and Drug Administration's Web site says it is continuously "assessing reports of suicide associated with the drug's use."

Stupak says the expensive drug, which is meant for severe acne cases, is still overprescribed while its dangerous side effects are underpublicized.

"It makes us feel frustrated to know that we work so hard but yet there are other cases out there where people aren't getting the necessary info."

Information the Stupaks say would have prevented them from investing in this drug in the first place.

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