Mother of teen suicide pilot sues drug company for $70M.
April 17, 2002 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Mother of teen suicide pilot sues drug company for $70M. Mom claims that the acne drug her son was taking caused his depression and subsequent suicide flight. Do you buy it?
posted by goto11 (33 comments total)

You can read the actual complaint at the Smoking Gun. Doing so made me a lot less hostile to the suit, although you also need to remember that the complaint is entirely a one-sided presentation of the facts. Still, it looks like the drug does have some well-documented problems and a verifiable history of actually causing psychosis (and of being banned by some countries as a result).
posted by yhbc at 7:29 AM on April 17, 2002

Hmmm. According to this:

"Accutane, the acne medication that some have linked to depression and suicidal tendencies, was not detected in the teen-ager's system."


"...someone under 18 must have a parent or legal guardian sign a consent form after reading lengthy explanations about potential side effects."

Sounds like a winnable lawsuit to me! But then again, I guess you can't not have a lawsuit when grief-stricken moms and multi-billion dollar drug companies are involved.
posted by drinkcoffee at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2002

An opposing view: "(Let's) estimate that 3 million different people have taken Accutane since 1982. If roughly 150 of them either committed or attempted suicide, we determine that approximately one in 20,000 committed or attempted suicide. But the overall suicide rate (successes, not just attempts) for teenagers is approximately 10 per 100,000 or one in 10,000. This is much higher than the rate among Accutane users! If we were to draw any top-of-our-head inference from the figures, it would be that Accutane has a prophylactic effect and lessens the risk of suicide, not that it causes it."
posted by biscotti at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2002

The potential risks of accutane have been known for quite a while, and doctors who give it to their patients give warnings of these risks upfront. It is then up to the patient or patient's parents to take responsibility.
posted by paddy at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2002

Just another case of the "Not Me" generation. Everyone looks for someone to blame, instead of facing the fact that sometimes in this world, terrible things just happen.
posted by gramcracker at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2002

I just think this is a mother desparate to find a concrete reason for her son's actions that doesn't involve her son being wrong in any way. Always try to point the blame somewhere else, right?

What's very odd, is that in the story linked by drinkcoffee, tests show that the kid didn't have the drug in his system. How does this mother have any possiblity of winning? It's almost like her lawyers are just trying to use the "sad mother, big bad company, give money" offense.
posted by JaxJaggywires at 8:04 AM on April 17, 2002

This suit seems pretty frivolous to me.
posted by donkeyschlong at 8:05 AM on April 17, 2002

I used the drug when it was in clinical trials in the UK. I had to have a ton of regular blood tests, but it never made me suicidal.
posted by jackiemcghee at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2002

This is probably a stupid lawsuit but does anyone really get the rundown of side effects from their doctor? I don't mean something along the lines of will it make you drowsy or not. I mean does he/she sit there with you and run through all the side effects and answer any questions you have? Where do any of you draw the line with regard to drug side effects?
posted by @homer at 8:15 AM on April 17, 2002

I have been taking Accutane for almost 10 years. I have *never* once felt depressed. This suit is pretty much crap, but, she'll probably win.
posted by Localemperor at 8:17 AM on April 17, 2002

nope, I'm fine, sunshine all the way, the blues they send to meet me won't defeat me, no black moods for!!.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:23 AM on April 17, 2002

So does this mean that his membership in the Young Republican's Club had absolutely nothing to do with his suicide? Well, there goes my theory! I could have sworn that it's a strong indicator of at least the need to join our Darwin award winners. Does Ashcroft know that suicide is allowed in Florida?
posted by nofundy at 8:26 AM on April 17, 2002

I took the drug for a while as a teenager. I don't agree with the suit, but I will admit that it gave me incredible mood swings. Of course, I clearly remember "Mood swings" being listed on the side effects chart. It was right below "anal bleeding," so it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.
posted by yerfatma at 8:29 AM on April 17, 2002

@homer: this site has the new (not sure how new) informed consent form on it, it clearly states "4. I understand that some patients, while taking Accutane or soon after stopping Accutane, have become depressed or developed other serious mental problems. Signs of these problems include feelings of sadness, irritability, unusual tiredness, trouble concentrating, and loss of appetite. Some patients taking Accutane have had thoughts about hurting themselves or putting an end to their own lives (suicidal thoughts). Some people tried to end their own lives. And some people have ended their own lives. There were reports that some of these people did not appear depressed. No one knows if Accutane caused these behaviors or if they would have happened even if the person did not take Accutane. Some people have had other signs of depression while taking Accutane (see #7 below).". It's followed by a list of signs of depression.

As with anything else, you have to weigh the potential risks against the potential benefits and decide for yourself. This reminds me of the anti-thalidomide lobby, which is trying to get thalidomide banned completely, even though it's showing signs of being extremely effective in treating some forms of cancer. As long as there's pregnancy testing before prescribing, as long as birth control is used during, and as long as people are aware of the risks, why shouldn't those who wish to use it be allowed to?
posted by biscotti at 8:40 AM on April 17, 2002

Before you receive Accutane, you are supposed to disclose any history of suicide in your family. The mother and father of the boy had a suicide pact in 1984:

The couple stuffed rags into the tailpipe of Detore's car and tried to fill it with carbon monoxide to kill them both, according to the 1984 newspaper accounts. When that failed, they allegedly agreed Detore would stab Bishara with a butcher knife, and he would slash her wrists with the same knife, the newspaper said.

This was not disclosed by the mother, nor were a few changes in the boy's personality (which is also supposed to be reported immediately)... I can't find the report I read on this, however :/
posted by Hankins at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2002

It was right below "anal bleeding," so it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

I'm glad I didn't take the recommendation of a friend of mine to use Accutane. That is one thing I would prefer to never have to experience.
posted by jaden at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2002

below "anal bleeding,"

not a happy place to be.
posted by tolkhan at 9:23 AM on April 17, 2002

Still, it looks like the drug does have some well-documented problems and a verifiable history of actually causing psychosis

All the more reason why she shouldn't have let her son use it for something as non-threatening as acne.
posted by scarabic at 9:36 AM on April 17, 2002

Okay, a boy who has access to his own aeroplane, who has unusual right wing beliefs, parents who had a suicide pact before they bore him, a mother of the mentality required to sue a drug company for her own parental ineptitude and a skin problem, is gonna be a likely candidate for suicide. I'm not even gonna go into the anal bleeding, he had more than three strikes against him to begin with.

Pity their parents didn't kill themselves. Maybe then they wouldn't have caught the assinine notion that they'd make responsible, much less capable parents. And maybe then nobody would've had to clean up their son's tantrum.
posted by Settle at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2002

scarabic: severe nodular acne (look at the last picture on the page), which Accutane is prescribed for, causes disfiguring scars. We're not talking about a few zits (Accutane is not prescribed for mild acne), we're talking about facial scarring. It may not be life-threatening, but facial disfigurement is pretty traumatic.
posted by biscotti at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2002

For me, the scariest thing I remember about Accutane is the warning to pregnant women touching the accutane package. It's the thalidomide of acne medicine. Still waiting to see if Peter Breggin is called in.
posted by rodz at 10:13 AM on April 17, 2002

I took the drug when I was a kid and it was far less depressing than being a high school nerd with a face full of gigantic zits.
posted by bondcliff at 10:26 AM on April 17, 2002


Exactly right. This is not stuff you take because you normal skin problems like every teenager. You take this to keep from forming severe cysts all over your face and body. I have been taking it for a long time because I inherited a severe skin disorder from my mom. I would rather put up with the side effects and the constant blood tests and x-rays than have those cysts break out again.
posted by Localemperor at 10:37 AM on April 17, 2002

This woman doesn't believe her son's suicide was caused by accutane. She believes that the tangential connection between her son's suicide and 9/11 will cause the company to have to pay more in money and bad publicity to defend itself than she would take in a settlement. It is legal extortion. It is sad that we live in a country that allows this.
posted by plaino at 10:38 AM on April 17, 2002

Do I Buy It? Hell no I'm depressed enough already.
posted by onegoodmove at 10:58 AM on April 17, 2002

Do I Buy It? Hell no I'm depressed enough already.
posted by onegoodmove at 10:58 AM on April 17, 2002

I took accutane for a few months(back in the day) because I had mild acne. It did not make me any crazier than I would have been due to my natural genetic makeup.

The drug companies probably have to list every possible side effect experienced at least one during use of their drug. This is just an exercise in ambulance-chasing.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2002

Also: anal bleeding?? What the hell?? Did they have the instructions upside down??
posted by Settle at 2:09 PM on April 17, 2002

I've been on three courses of Accutane over the years for cystic acne. I have some scarring from it. I was not a R.N. when I took the medication, but am now. Before I was prescribed the medication, the dermatologist made me listen to all the potential side-effects. She then handed me a blank piece of paper and made me write down and sign what she had just said. It went into my chart. Since I am female, she also recommended 2 forms of birth control because of the known problems to a fetus. I can say that being on Accutane was one of the best things I ever did. It prevented further scars and improved self-esteem/confidence. Side effects included dry mucous membranes. If people reach this level of severity with acne that they need this medication, they usually are willing to accept the risks.

Local news has said blood tests didn't show Accutane in his system. It did mention that his mother is claiming it was "store in his brain". Can't find a link for this, though.

Seattle--I'm guessing anal bleeding because of dry mucous membranes.

The reason this drug was never made by a company as a generic is because of the side effects. Lawsuits like this piss me off because I know it's a good drug. I'm grateful it was around for me.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 2:37 PM on April 17, 2002

I have been taking Accutane for almost 10 years.

Um, WHAT?! The prescribed treatment runs six months, as far as I know.

Incidentally, I know a number of people who've been helped by Accutane. This lawsuit really tees me off.
posted by donkeyschlong at 5:57 PM on April 17, 2002

From what I understand Accutane is used for people who don't do well on other acne medicine as much as it is for the severe cystic acne. About anyone I know who's had acne has been on Accutane. Now don't take this as it's being passed out like Prozac. Girl's especially are monitored really close (and they are more prone to the physcological symptoms).

The only thing I've noticed is really dry skin and lips that stay constantly chapped, nothing you can do will make them moist -- even for a short period of time. Oh and really bad joint/back pains, like you've been working out real hard the day before. The mood thing is no real big deal. The "downs" are lower but the "ups" aren't higher. I know a lot of people who are hesitant to go on it, but from my experience and from everyone I talked to -- it works wonders and it shouldn't be marred by things like this.
posted by geoff. at 6:19 PM on April 17, 2002

the reason that the blood tests aren't showing Accutane [says the defense attorney] is because there wasn't enough blood left in the corpse to get an accurate test. From this morning's Edmonton Journal [which is now in the blue box, so I can't find a concrete source, sorry].
posted by Nyx at 9:53 PM on April 17, 2002

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