Nathan Day’s final note led his parents to Poor Mountain, where they found him hanged from a tree.
The 22-year-old Floyd County man had thought about suicide for more than a year and almost followed through before his last birthday. But on Jan. 24, 2001, Day wrote, “it’s finaly came down to this.”
The story of his death, detailed in court documents, led the family to look for answers. He had no history of depression or any trauma they could think of. But Day suffered from acne and had been using the drug Accutane.
In the Accutane lawsuit filed last month in Roanoke Circuit Court, his parents blame the acne medicine’s manufacturer, his dermatologist and Lewis-Gale Clinic. The Accutane attorney allegations against Dr. Gary Gross, Lewis-Gale, Hoffman-LaRoche Inc. and Roche Laboratories Inc. include product liability, negligent failure to warn, defective design and medical malpractice.
Day’s parents, Willis Day and Marguerite Ziemba , both of Floyd County, ask for at least $2.5 million in damages.
The Roanoke lawsuit joins a growing list of complaints about Accutane. Experts and users consider it successful in treating the most severe acne, but the Food and Drug Administration cautions that it may cause depression and psychosis, and in rare cases may cause suicidal thoughts and actions among other Accutane side effects.
The FDA advises pregnant women against taking the drug, which is known to cause miscarriages and severe birth defects. But despite reports of suicides in Accutane patients, no clear link has been shown between the two, according to the FDA.
“Depression is a common problem, and some patients may be suffering from it before starting Accutane therapy,” an FDA report states. “Additionally, some patients who reported depression with Accutane had previous courses of the drug without depression.”
A federal lawsuit filed in Oklahoma failed when a jury rejected a woman’s claim that Accutane caused her to have bouts of depression.
In a widely publicized incident, the Florida woman whose son flew an airplane into a Tampa high-rise building sued Hoffmann-LaRoche for $70 million, claiming that his use of the drug led to the crash. Although a coroner’s report found no traces of Accutane in 15-year-old Charles Bishop’s blood, the Hillsborough County, Fla., medical examiner said that did not necessarily mean that Bishop had none in his system, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
The Roanoke lawsuit cites “careful evaluation of the medical science and surrounding circumstances” to support its claim. Bishop Dansby of Harrisonburg, Day’s parents’ attorney, declined to say who did the evaluation.
Between 1982 and May 2000, the FDA received 37 reports of Accutane patients in the United States who committed suicide, 24 while on the drug and 13 who had stopped taking it, according to the FDA Web site.
The agency received more than 100 reports of users in the United States who were hospitalized for depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, according to the site.
More than 5 million people in the United States and 12 million worldwide have used Accutane, according to the FDA.
Lewis-Gale Clinic spokesman Stephen McClintic Jr. declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality rules.
Roche public affairs spokeswoman Gail Safian said suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people 15 to 24 years old – the same age range for most Accutane patients. But Accutane patients commit suicide at the rate of 1.8 per 100,000 people – lower than the ratio of 10.3 per 100,000 for the rest of the 15- to 24-year-old population, Safian said.
“We feel terrible for the family, and it’s a tragic thing that anyone loses a child,” she said. “That doesn’t equate with the product having a cause-and-effect, or any, role in this case or any other case.”