ACNE pills and antidepressants have been targeted as potential triggers for teen suicide, in the National Children’s Commission inquiry into childhood self-harm.
Commissioner Megan Mitchell revealed she would seek expert advice on whether antidepressant and acne medications were contributing to self-harm and suicide among young Australians. “There is certainly a debate … in the community about the role of antidepressants and other medications, like acne treatments,’’ she told The Australian.
“There are all types of drugs administered to children that can have an impact on them taking their own lives or self-harming.
“The brain is still developing up to the age of 25 at least so it makes sense that particular drugs might impact on brain development at that time.’’
But the nation’s drugs watchdog said it would wait to evaluate the findings of an inquiry launched by the UK Commission on Human Medicines this week into Roaccutane, the most popular brand of the anti-acne pill.
The TGA’s database of adverse events lists Roaccutane as a “suspected’’ cause of 14 suicides in the past five years — in which it was the only drug being taken. In addition, the database links the drug to 14 other cases of suicidal ideation, five suicide attempts and two cases of intentional self-injury. The database does not provide details of the ages and sex of the patients taking the drug.
Four more suicides were linked to other drugs containing isotretinoin, but the trade name was not specified.
A TGA spokeswoman yesterday said the acne drug might be reviewed in light of the new British government study.
“The TGA is aware of the proposed European review of isotretinoin and will evaluate this information to determine whether a review should be undertaken in Australia,’’ she said.
The TGA spokeswoman said the database listing of “suspected’’ links between the acne drug and suicide “means the TGA thinks there is a possibility that the medicine caused the adverse event’’.
She said the TGA reviewed cases “where appropriate’’, but did not answer questions about how many cases had been reviewed, or the outcomes of any investigations. Roaccutane can only be prescribed by a specialist, usually a dermatologist, and its consumer information leaflet warns patients to tell their doctor immediately if they are “feeling depressed, with or without suicidal thoughts’’.
A spokesman for Roaccutane manufacturer Roche yesterday said more than 17 million people worldwide had taken the drug to treat severe cystic acne, which failed to respond to conventional antibiotic treatment.
He said a review of available medical information “has not been able to confirm or refute causal associations’’ with depression and suicide.
The Australian Medical Association’s psychiatric representative, child psychiatrist Choong-Siew Yong, yesterday said the link between suicide and prescription drugs was a “chicken or egg’’ issue. He said many patients who took Roaccutane might already feel “down or depressed or suicidal’’ as a result of low self-esteem or bullying over disfiguring acne. “What came first — depression over your appearance?’’ he said.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals 68,464 Australian children younger than 15 are prescribed “mental health related’’ medicines each year.
A further 161,204 Australians aged between 15 and 24 take mental health prescription drugs.
This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 30 April 2014.