Accutane: worth the risks?

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Accutane: worth the risks?

By Erin Kelly

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Many students have it, and most dream of it disappearing forever. “It” is acne, and to aid the majority of students who must endure the unsightly, red bumps on their face, there is a pill called Accutane.

Accutane works to reduce the size of the skin’s oil glands and therefore reduce the amount of acne bacteria in the skin. According to Acne.org, Accutane is appealing to many because it helps to achieve partial or complete clearance of acne in 95 percent of those who take it.

But this so-called “Miracle Drug” also poses a risk to patients in its mild to severe side effects, which include dry lips, muscle aches and joint pains, depression, mood changes, thoughts of suicide and the potential for birth defects if the patient becomes pregnant.

For freshmen sisters Sydney and Sophie Scott, acne and Accutane run in the family. Their mom and aunt took it and saw positive results. Sydney and Sophie are now on Accutane, too. Sydney has been on Accutane for six months, and Sophie for two months. For Sydney, Accutane does not just mean clear skin, but a newfound confidence in herself.

I wish I could have taken Accutane in fourth grade right when my acne started.”

— Sophie Scott

“I can finally look people in the eye and talk to them without wanting to hide my face with my hair,” Sydney said. “I used to be really self-conscious, but now I’m more outgoing.”

As far as side effects go, Sophie deals with constant dry lips and skin, while Sydney experiences dry skin and pain in her joints. They both firmly believe Accutane is worth the side effects that come with it.

“I don’t even think it’s a question of whether you should take Accutane or not,” Sophie said. “I wish I could have taken Accutane in fourth grade right when my acne started.”

Not everyone believes clear skin is worth the side effects Accutane can bring. Alex Chiodini, sophomore, took Accutane for a few days when he could tell something was wrong.

“While I was on it, I started getting really angry for no reason,” Chiodini said. “I could tell I was just a little more anxious than normal, and it was really weird. My mom noticed it too, and she made me stop taking Accutane after just two weeks.”

Chiodini started Accutane in the same way most people do: with a dermatologist recommendation. According to Barb Underwood, a medical assistant at the St. Louis University Department of Dermatology, Accutane is the last form of acne medication a dermatologist will recommend.

The doctors told me there were some side effects… I didn’t really care.”

— Alex Chiodini

“[Accutane] is an expensive drug,” Underwood said. “So the insurance companies prefer a patient to have tried and failed to improve on acne medications, like topical and antibiotics, before they have to pay for Accutane.”

Chiodini did not know anything about Accutane until the day he started taking it, so he was not wary of the potential side effects.

“The doctors told me there were some side effects,” Chiodini said. “I didn’t really care because there was an almost 100 percent chance of no zits [if I took Accutane].”

Underwood said it is very uncommon for people on Accutane to experience side effects similar to Chiodini’s, in part because dermatologists monitor their patients carefully. Every month, Accutane patients are required to take blood tests. Dermatologists also adjust the dosage based on a patient’s weight.

“In my career I’ve had maybe two patients who have experienced severe side effects like depression and mood changes,” Underwood said. “They both stopped taking Accutane immediately.”

Chiodini does not necessarily regret taking Accutane, but he said he would never go back to it. “I wouldn’t recommend Accutane to anyone,” Chiodini said. “It’s just not worth the risks that can come with it.”

Contrarily, Kelly Murphy, senior, could not praise Accutane highly enough. She has been on the drug for 2 1/2 months and has already seen improvements. Murphy was not worried about the risks of Accutane before taking it because she has a friend who already completed her Accutane cycle and now, according to Murphy, has perfect skin.

“The dry lips can get bad,” Murphy said. “I’m always putting on a never-ending cycle of chapstick in class. But, since I’m going to college next year, I wanted my skin to be completely clear…I’d say if you’re really unhappy with how your skin looks, then Accutane is definitely worth the risks.”