The mother of a talented student who committed suicide after taking an anti-acne drug that has been linked with scores of deaths around the world is calling for it to be banned.
David Roberts, 20, had been taking Roaccutane for three months when he was found hanged from a tree near his home in Allerton, Liverpool.
Data collected by the World Health Organisation indicate that 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, it has been reported.
David’s mother, Anne, said that she had no idea how dangerous the drug was. She told Liverpool Coroner’s Court: “I absolutely believe that David’s death was directly due to the drug he was taking.”
After the hearing Mrs Roberts added: “From what I have since learnt it is clear this drug is a danger to young people. There are too many people suffering from Accutane side effects. We hope the ministers for health in the UK and EU will take action and carry out a thorough investigation. How many more people have to die before they take action?
The Department of Health should revoke the licence to prescribe Roaccutane. A company that manufactures these drugs aimed at young people should be at the inquest to answer to the families. You would think they would want to defend it, Instead they didn’t even show the decency to accept the coroner’s invite to the inquest.”
Roche Pharmaceuticals was rebuked by Andre Rebello, the coroner, for not turning up.
Mr Rebello said: “As Roche were one of the properly interested parties they were advised to come to this inquest. They didn’t even acknowledge my letters.
“For any court to be treated in contempt in that way is not a very good start. They completely ignored notification. They were not charged with blame or liability but simply to give their side of events.”
Roche Products Ltd said that it was saddened by the death. A spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, severe acne can cause some sufferers to become depressed and can also affect their mood and self-esteem.
“This is why the information provided with Roaccutane carries a warning that some patients may experience mood changes, including an increase in depression.”
The spokeswoman said the information in each pack told patients to tell their doctor if they suffered from depression or if they noticed any change in moods. More than 13 million people worldwide had been successfully treated for severe acne using Roaccutane over the past 20 years. She said that, while no causal link has been established between Roaccutane and depression or suicide, the company monitored all safety databases worldwide.
The drug, a “last resort” treatment for severe acne that can be prescribed only by consultant dermatologists, was used more than 3,000 times last year in Britain.
Mr Roberts, who had been accepted at Manchester University to study pharmacology, had been prescribed the drug by the dermatologist Arun Baratti. Dr Baratti told the inquest that he was aware of rare side-effects caused by Roaccutane, including suicidal tendencies and potential for self-harm. “We ask patients to look out for loss of interest, loss of appetite and changing sleep patterns. If there was any indication of this I would have given him psychiatric assistance.”
The coroner recorded a “narrative verdict” saying that he did not know all the facts surrounding David’s death and probably never would.
FAMILIES, DEATH AND BLAME
Roberts’ Accutane lawsuit isn’t the only case of suicide while on the drug.
Liam Grant, 20, died in 1997. His father has claimed his son’s suicide was a side-effect of his use of Roaccutane. He has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on independent research to try to prove that the drug causes depression.
In November the family of Jon Medland, a medical student who killed himself after taking the drug, called for a worldwide inquiry into Roaccutane. Mr Medland, from Barnstaple, Devon, was in the final year of his medical degree at Manchester University when he hanged himself at his student lodgings. His inquest was told that Mr Medland changed from a “bubbly, outgoing” young man to withdrawn and depressed with suicidal thoughts.
In 1997 Seumas Todd, the 20-year-old son of Richard Todd, the actor, committed suicide after taking Roaccutane. His father believes that the drug was “undoubtedly” a factor in his death.
Increasing number of suchlike tragic stories can make many think of pros and cons of using this drug. Those who were hurt and kept silent may reconsider their opinion and retain an Accutane attorney to protect their legal rights.