Usage and equity of access to isotretinoin in New Zealand by deprivation and ethnicity

N Z Med J. 2011 Nov 25;124(1346):34-43.


Aims: Oral isotretinoin, for severe acne, was until March 2009 fully funded in New Zealand only if the prescription was written by a vocationally registered dermatologist. This funding restriction was argued on the basis of complexity of management and an appreciable risk of teratogenicity if given during pregnancy or within a month of conception. However, this funding restriction had the potential to create inequitable access barriers. This study was an audit examining the use of isotretinoin by deprivation level and ethnicity, in order to examine potential inequities in use.

Method: Dispensed prescription data for funded isotretinoin, for the year ending June 2008, held in a national repository was analysed using simple descriptive methods based on ethnicity and deprivation level. The same analysis was carried out for cyproterone acetate with ethinyloestradiol, another acne pharmaceutical available on prescription with no funding restrictions. There was demographic data on 60% of prescriptions based on the health identification number NHI.

Results: People living in more deprived areas (as defined by NZDep Index) were less likely to use isotretinoin, as were Maori and Pacific people. The association with deprivation level was not present for cyproterone acetate with ethinyloestradiol, although disparities in use by ethnicity remained.

Conclusions: Given there is no evidence for lower rates of acne for Maori and Pacific people, the reasons may include financial and other barriers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / diagnosis
  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Dermatologic Agents / economics
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice / ethnology
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects
  • Isotretinoin / economics
  • Isotretinoin / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / statistics & numerical data*
  • New Zealand
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Isotretinoin