Why Did They Stop Selling Accutane?

Accutane (Isotretinoin)
Photo (c) Gold Standard

In June of 2009, drug maker Roche Holding AG stopped selling the very popular (and sometimes controversial) acne drug, Accutane.  Accutane is the brand name for isotretinoin, an oral medication prescribed for those with nodular or cystic acne, or severe inflammatory acne that didn't respond to other treatments.

Why did they stop selling Accutane?

Accutane was introduced in 1982.  At the time, it was the best, most effective treatment for severe acne.

  Even today, the active ingredient in Accutane, isotretinoin, is considered the gold standard for treating severe acne.  It works to clear cases of acne that haven't improved with other treatments. 

Plus, isotretinoin medications are the closest thing to an acne cure that we have.  After a course (sometimes two) of the medication, most cases of acne clear up and don't come back.  Unlike with other acne treatments (say, topical retinoids or azelaic acid) you don't have to continue to use the drug long term.

So, why did the drug maker stop selling the brand?  Prior to the decision to stop selling the medication, Accutane sales had been slowing as more people turned to generic alternatives, and Roche decided it wasn't making enough money on the product to justify continued distribution. The company said the decision to stop selling Accutane was purely financial, and not because the drug was unsafe.

Still, the drug maker had also been plagued by lawsuits. Accutane has been linked to, among other things, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, and severe birth defects (when taken by pregnant women).

It's important to remember that while, yes, Accutane and other isotretinoin medications can cause some fairly serious side effects, most of them are very rare.

  Many, many people have used isotretinoin medications safely.

Now that Accutane is off the market, are there any alternatives?

So you can't get Accutane anymore, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck.  There are still many isotretinoin options for treating severe inflammatory acne.  Generic versions of the drug have been available since 2002.

What's the difference?  Basically, the name only.  Generic drugs contain the same active ingredient as their brand name counterparts.  So, while you may not be getting a medication labeled Acctuane, you can still get the same medication: isotretinoin.  (For more details, check out this article: Generic Vs. Name Brand Acne Medications -- Do They Work the Same?)

Instead, you'll find this medication sold under the names Absorica, Amnesteem, Claravis, and Sotret, as well as generic isotretinoin.

Just like with the Accutane brand, when you're taking any isotretinoin medication you'll have to enroll in the iPledge program.  And, while isotretinoin is arguably the best treatment for severe forms of acne, it's not an appropriate treatment choice for everyone.

  Your dermatologist will let you know if it's an option for you.  (Never buy Accutane (isotretinoin) online, by the way.  That's really dangerous!)

Bottom line, there are still plenty of treatments available for severe acne.  Talk to your dermatologist to find the one that is right for you.

Next steps:

Accutane Alternatives - Both Isotretinoin and Isotretinoin-Free

More Oral Acne Medication Options

How To Treat Severe Acne


Baldwin HD.  "Pharmacologic Treatment Options in Mild, Moderate, and Severe Acne Vulgaris."  Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2015 Sep;34(5S):S82-S85.

"Isotretinoin." Medline Plus. 15 Feb 2016. NIH. Accessed 25 Feb 2016.

Prevost N, English JC.  "Isotretinoin: update on controversial issues."  J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol.  2013 Oct; 26(5):290-3.

On SC, Zeichner J.  "Isotretinoin updates."  Dermatol Ther. 2013 Sep-Oct; 26(5):377-89.

Webster GF.  "Isotretinoin: Mechinism of Action and Patient Selection."  Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2015 Sep;34(5S):S86-S88.

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