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Parents Sue Over Son's Suicide, Citing Acne Drug

May 20, 2004 | The Register-Guard

The parents of a Springfield area teenager who killed himself after taking a powerful acne drug have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against PeaceHealth and the boy's dermatologist.

The Accutane lawsuit, filed by the parents of Dustin Luke Greufe, seeks $1 million in noneconomic damages "for loss of love, society and companionship" and $1 million in economic damages, plus $5,000 for his funeral expenses.

The family’s Accutane attorney alleges PeaceHealth and Dr. Patricia O'Hare, a PeaceHealth Medical Group dermatologist, were negligent for inappropriately prescribing the drug Accutane to Dustin Greufe; failing to warn the Greufes of the drug's risks; and failing to monitor Dustin Greufe for adverse psychiatric side effects, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

PeaceHealth is the Bellevue, Wash.-based nonprofit corporate parent of Sacred Heart Medical Center and PeaceHealth Medical Group, a Eugene-based medical practice with about 110 physicians.

Greufe was a 16-year-old junior at Thurston High School when he hanged himself May 14, 2001, in the barn at his parent's home in Mohawk, northeast of Springfield.

A month earlier, he'd completed a six-month course of Accutane prescribed by O'Hare.

The drug, a synthetic derivative of Vitamin A, is powerfully effective at clearing up severe cases of acne. But it also has been linked to depression and suicide.

Since 1982, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received reports of 245 suicides, including 182 in the United States, associated with Accutane, agency spokeswoman Kathleen Quinn said Wednesday. The FDA says as few as 1 percent of "adverse events" associated with Accutane, such as suicide and attempted suicide, ever get reported.

Among the young people who have killed themselves after taking Accutane were the 17-year-old son of Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, and Charles Bishop, a 15-year-old boy who flew a small plane into an office building in Tampa, Fla., four months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bishop's mother is suing the drug's manufacturer, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche.

Hoffman-La Roche representatives insist there's no scientific evidence that Accutane causes suicide and depression, but the FDA has required Roche to list both as potential side effects on the drug's label.

Colleen Greufe declined Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit or explain why she filed the suit herself, without benefit of a lawyer. In a 2001 interview, she and her husband said they believed Accutane was a factor in their son's suicide.

"I think it had a leading role," she said then. "He just had too many things going for him."

"To me there's no doubt," said his father, Matthew Greufe. "There's always going to be a doubt about how much it contributed, but there's no doubt it did."

Six months on Accutane cleared up the acne on Dustin Greufe's face, back and shoulders, according to his medical records, reviewed by The Register-Guard in 2001.

After each of his checkups, O'Hare noted in his chart that he had reported no problems with depression, mood swings, headaches, visual changes or stomach pain.

But his parents said he suffered some side effects, including nose bleeds, joint pain and severe stomach pain, his parents said. A nurse in O'Hare's office assured the family those were normal side effects.

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