As a dermatological disease affecting the skin, the symptoms of acne technically occur on a superficial level. But the condition's more serious implications go much deeper than that: Evidence both anecdotal and research-based points to its negative psychological impact, with sufferers reporting increased anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-esteem.
It's a testament to just how debilitating acne can be that millions of people, desperate for a resolution, are willing to turn to a drug that's been linked to such extreme side effects as liver damage, severe birth defects, inflammatory bowel disease, frequent nosebleeds, and even thoughts of suicide. Oral isotretinoin, a prescription-only vitamin A derivative often referred to by the brand name of Accutane, is risky and highly controversial. For some patients, it's a miracle drug, a "cure" that's well worth a few weeks of painfully dry, cracked lips in exchange for breakout-free skin; for others, it's a months-long nightmare of joint pain and pounding headaches. And now, Accutane may play a key role in a murder trial.
Colorado teenager Aiden von Grabow, 15, is being charged with first-degree murder, along with 10 other counts, in the stabbing death of 20-year-old Makayla Grote, of Longmont, CO, at Grote's apartment in November 2017. Local news outlet Longmont Times-Call reports that the defense team for von Grabow is looking to cite Accutane's role in the alleged crime during witness and expert testimonies. While von Grabow's attorneys have not specifically confirmed whether or not their client was prescribed the drug at the time of Grote's murder, they've hinted at it in court, outlining plans to call psychiatrist Doug Bremner, MD, who is known for his extensive research on the relationship between mental health and Accutane, to the stand "to testify how the drug could possibly cause aggressive or violent behavior in a person who had never before exhibited those types of behaviors."
During a weeklong hearing beginning March 5, prosecutors will attempt to convince Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald to transfer van Grabow's case out of juvenile court to be tried as an adult, even though he is under the age of 16. Macdonald and Boulder Deputy District Attorney Adrian Van Nice rejected the defense's bid to bring Dr. Bremner in for the transfer hearing, given that another doctor for van Grabow would already be citing his research, but he could still appear in court for a trial. Macdonald also moved to "limit the testimony" of psychiatrist Douglas Jacobs, MD, a consultant with healthcare company Hoffman-La Roche, which sells Accutane.
As Longmont Times-Call reports, Dr. Bremner and Dr. Jacobs were both cited in a 2002 New York Times article covering the suicide of a Florida teen whose mother blamed Accutane for her son's depression. An FDA warning, released in 2005, acknowledges the potential link between the acne-treatment drug and adverse mental-health effects, and notes that "all patients treated with isotretinoin should be observed closely for symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts ... or for mood disturbance, psychosis, or aggression." We've reached out to Hoffman-La Roche for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.