Saturday, July 10, 2010

Accutane & You!

They are several scientific breakthroughs that have altered the course of human history: the discovery of penicillin, the first human organ transplant, and the selection of Senator Bob Dole to market Viagra to the public. However there is one medicinal milestone that superseded all others if you happened to be a teenager in the late 90’s: the patenting of isotretinoin by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann–La Roche.
While Roche was not the first to use isotretinoin (it was previously used as a chemotherapy drug to treat brain and pancreatic cancer) they were the first to market it as a cure for acne under the name Accutane. Over the next decade, the drug became a juggernaut that was dispensed to millions of ailing high school kids as miracle cure for the scourge of “face herpes.”
Like a number of my peers, I suffered from acne and was self-aware enough to realize that I needed all of the esthetic assistance I could get, if I wished to attract members of the fairer sex. Several of my friends who suffered from dermatological eruptions had experienced miraculous results with Roche’s wonder drug, and I wanted in on the action. My parents were reticent to place their first born on such a powerful drug, but they finally agreed to take me to the doctor. I suppose the idea of me still being single and living at home when I was forty was a great motivator.
Once the appointment was set, I began to plan out the most efficient method of selecting which ladies to court. I was certain that my soon–to-be-acquired buttery smooth complexion would cause a landslide of romantic attention and I decided that if things got too hectic I might have to petition the parents for an extra phone line at the house. I lamented the burden of breaking so many young hearts, but I certainly could not have been expected to spread myself too thin.
After several weeks of dosing, I found that Accutane did have some dramatic effects on me, albeit not any of the desired ones:
1.       I would suffer from sudden nose bleeds, and not the variety that you dab with a tissue. Was the condition to be recognized by the American Medical Association, I propose “Unscheduled Nasal Menstruation” or U.N.M. for short.

2.       I developed a ravenous appetite that was accompanied by a less discerning palate. This led to me consuming large quantities of generic Oreo cookies sold under the name Great Value Twist & Shouts. I would come home from school after eating a tamale pie* for lunch and consume 8-14 of these cookies along with an udderful of whole milk.

3.       I gained fifteen pounds, but the excess body fat was limited to my head and neck. When I donned a tux to escort for the school’s beauty pageant, the collar squeezed enough neck-fat out to look like the top of my suit was baking a loaf of bread. My comical proportions later earned me the nickname “cabbage patch.”

4.        I became embarrassingly overdramatic in response to normal conversation. While in the throes of accu-mania, a typical interaction with my family might go something like this:

Concerned Family Member: “You look tired.”
Me: “What’s that supposed to mean!?”
C.F.M. “Nothing… I just meant that you looked tired…”
Me: “I guess it is just too much trouble to let me live my life!”
C.F.M. “Just forget it…Are you hungry?”
Me: “No one understands me anymore!”
C.F.M. “I just asked if you were hungry.”
Me: “Don’t think I don’t see what is happening here!!”

5.       I suffered from depression and although that was identified as a possible side-effect of treatment, I am not convinced that it was chemically induced. After all, I was now an overdramatic, emotional eater who had suddenly been burdened with a disproportionately-large cranium on which to display my as yet unabated acne. Combined with the nose-bleeds, I faintly resembled a teenage Ebola patient bobble-head.
Eventually, my frustration with the lack of results led the doctor to place me on dosage level I can only assume is reserved for death row inmates with no immediate family. Several weeks later my mother, both concerned for my health and unable to financially support my growing cookie habit, took me back to the physician and demanded that I be placed on something topical instead. He agreed, and I was given a powerful cream that removed so much moisture from my skin it must have contained a desiccant.
The cream was as ineffective on my acne as the Accutane, but at least I managed to shed a few collar sizes. Eventually, my skin condition cleared on its own. While I was doing research for this essay, I ran across the list of side effects for Accutane and mused at the irony of believing that taking this drug would make me more attractive to women:
·         Extreme, severe acne flaring
·         Extreme dryness of lips, face, eyes,  and mucous   membranes causing nosebleeds
·         Permanent hair-thinning
·         Erectile Dysfunction
·         Inflammatory Bowel Disease
·         Depression & Psychosis
·         Hepatitis
If taken while a woman is pregnant, it can cause everything from developmental disorders to the child being born without any earlobes. What kind of medicine can make a human’s earlobes disappear in utero?
At any rate, I think that it has been discontinued in that form amid a wave of lawsuits so perhaps Roche will continue to rely on their real cash crop: TamiFlu.
*For those who did not attend high school with me, a tamale pie is an underfunded cousin of the nacho. It contains a base of tortilla chips and is topped off by watered-down chili and nacho cheese sauce of questionable origin.


  1. I saw an ad yesterday by a lawyer who's representing former Accutane users who now suffer from irritable bowl syndrome. Just another to add to the list!

  2. It would appear that my pharmaceutical "ship done come in." Perhaps one day my story could be dramatized in a cheesy commercial for a law firm...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.