Background: Isotretinoin, a drug approved to treat severe recalcitrant nodular acne, has been marketed in the United States since 1982. The drug is an effective treatment for acne that is refractory to other therapies, but it is a teratogen and can cause serious side effects.
Objective: Our purpose was to describe trends in the use of isotretinoin in the United States from marketing through year 2000 and summarize characteristics of patients and prescribers.
Methods: Data from 2 pharmaceutical marketing research databases, the National Prescription Audit Plus and the National Disease and Therapeutic Index, and from 2 health plan networks were obtained and analyzed.
Results: Retail pharmacies dispensed 19.8 million outpatient prescriptions for isotretinoin from marketing in 1982 through 2000. From 1983 through 1993, the median annual number of prescriptions was just over 800,000; between 1992 and 2000, the number of prescriptions increased 2.5-fold (250%) to nearly 2 million in year 2000. The increases registered in the health plans were somewhat larger: about 275% increases from 1995 through 1999. There is no ICD-9 code for nodulocystic acne; consequently, the type of acne treated with isotretinoin is not determinable from these data. However, between 1993 and 2000, the proportion of isotretinoin treatment for severe acne declined from 63% to 46%, whereas the proportion of treatment for mild and moderate acne increased from 31% to 49%. Data also indicated that the sex distribution of patients was nearly even, and that 63% of male patients prescribed isotretinoin were 15 to 19 years old, whereas 51% of female patients were 15 to 24 years old.
Conclusion: In the last 8 years, there has been a 2.5-fold (250%) increase in the number of dispensed prescriptions for isotretinoin in the United States. Data also reveal an increasing proportion of isotretinoin use for mild and moderate acne.