Heartbroken mums issue warning about acne drug after daughters take own lives

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Two bereaved mums have issued a shattering warning about an acne drug after both their teenage daughters killed themselves in near-mirror suicides.

Annabel Wright, 15, was said to be a typical teenage girl who was excitedly preparing for exams and a holiday to Spain.

But the young schoolgirl unexpectedly killed herself after texting her friends the short message: “I feel down.”

Helen Wright, 49, told Good Health that depression hit daughter “like a tidal wave”.

She said: “I know Annabel didn't want to leave us," her mother, Helen Wright, 49, told Good Health.

“Whatever hit her, hit her like a tidal wave.

And in the months that followed, Helen and husband Simon, 55, discovered that many other young people in the UK and in the US had taken their own lives after being put on the treatment.

Roaccutane, or Accutane in the US, was initially used as a skin cancer treatment but proved effective in treating acne.

Experts say that after a course of 16-24 weeks of the drug, users see a “significant improvement” in their skin, Mail Online reports.

But the drug, which is isotretinoin, has been linked to serious side effects including birth defects for pregnant women and suicides in young men.

Almost 15 months after her daughter's death, mum Helen has bravely decided to to warn other families of the supposed dangers of the drug.

She told Good Health: “On the day she died, we'd had dinner together with Annabel's grandmother Maxine, who was staying with us that week.

“After dinner Annabel cuddled our dog, Monty, which that morning had jumped on her bed and woken her up by licking her face. She got hold of him and said, 'Are you going to wake me up like that every morning?'. She didn't know she wasn't going to wake up again.”

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After dinner, her mother and grandmother drove Annabel's 12-year-old brother William to a Young Farmers' club, and went for a walk. With homework to do, Annabel chose to stay at home.

At about 8.15pm Annabel's father Simon, a self-employed businessman, returned from work and went upstairs to have a chat with her.

Helen added: “He had a perfectly normal conversation with her.

“He asked how her day had been and about her exams [practice exams ahead of mocks in December] and she was absolutely fine about them.”

Helen had appeared fine all afternoon and was even excitedly chatting with a friend who had agreed to go on a summer holiday with the family to Spain.

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But then tragedy struck after the 15-year-old sent another text to pals saying: “I feel down.”

At about 8.45pm, Annabel’s grandmother made the grisly discovery of the teenager’s body.

Helen said: “The ambulance and the police came quickly and the paramedics tried for a long time to resuscitate her, but it was too late.

“We had no idea what had happened. All I knew was that she didn't want to leave us, because why would she have been making plans, revising for an exam that she was never going to sit or asking the dog if he was going to wake her up again in the morning?”

In hindsight Helen ‘bitterly regrets’ letting her daughter take the skin clearing drug, and has warned other parents to think twice.

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She said: “I'd read that the drug was causing children in the U.S. to take their own lives, but when I raised this with the dermatologist her exact words were, 'It could be argued that those children took their lives because they were depressed about their skin.

“And I believed her. But what I know now is that for most kids this drug works and improves their acne, so they're not attempting suicide when their skin is bad — like Annabel, they are doing it when their skin is already better”.

Helen said that Annabel’s dosage of the drug was reduced on the day her daughter took her own life – after her skin initially showed signs of improvement.

But despite the known side effects, the mum said the teenager’s dermatologist only checked in to check her mental state once.

She claimed the doctor asked ‘How’s your mood?’

Helen said: “And of course, Annabel just said, 'Fine.’”

This time Annabel's dose was reduced to 30mg, as she was nearing the end of her course of treatment — but five hours later, she was dead.

Data obtained by Good Health suggests that only eight in 71 patients whose suicides were linked to the drug were in girls in the UK.

And in the US the proportion is much higher, with 20 per cent of 428 suicides linked to the treatment.

One of those girls was Courtney Morris, the 15-year-old daughter of Sisalene, a medical assistant.

Courtney took her own life on May 11 this year, just four weeks after being prescribed 40mg of Accutane, twice daily.

Sisalene, who lives with husband Tony and their elder daughter, McKenzie, in Weippe, Idaho, said: “I believe with my whole heart that this drug took my daughter's life, this medication should not continue to be prescribed.

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“She had a loving family, good friends, did well in school, played sports, had had no past trauma or mental issues.”

Roche has continued to deny the drug is responsible for causing depression and suicide.

A spokesman told Good Health: “Millions of patients worldwide have taken Roaccutane but, like most medications, it can have side-effects. That is why we recommend it is prescribed very carefully, with particular consideration regarding any previous history of depression.

“Given the conflicting evidence available, all users should be aware of the potential mental health risks associated with isotretinoin use. This is why we include information regarding this in the patient information leaflet.”

A spokesperson for Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust said it is investigating Annabel’s case.

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK free on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

  • Drugs
  • NHS

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