THE parents of a teenager who died after taking an acne drug have called for it to be banned.

Jack Bowlby, a keen horserider from Kingston Lisle, near Wantage, was found dead in his room at Cheltenham College on October 12 last year, aged 16.

He had taken the prescription drug Roaccutane for seven months, despite complaining to a nurse that he started experiencing “very dark thoughts”, including suicide.

His parents, Michael and Amanda Bowlby, now want the drug banned.

Mrs Bowlby said: “Jack was a bright, talented star. He had no history of depression. But this didn’t manifest itself as straightforward depression, it was a psychosis.

“The last time I saw him, the week before he died, I said ‘what’s wrong with you Jack? I feel like I don’t know you’.”

She said Jack himself had linked his depression to the drug, which was withdrawn from the market in the US in 2009.

She added: “You can imagine it takes some stomach to do this when we have lost our son. It has not just taken his life, it has destroyed ours and made his brother Tom’s very uncomfortable.

“Until there are further significant studies that can eliminate people like Jack from taking the drug, it needs to be banned.”

Mr Bowlby, 49, who runs the family farm with his wife, said: “This drug has catastrophic consequences in a certain percentage of people who take it.”

On Tuesday, Mr and Mrs Bowlby joined four other sets of parents at a debate in the Houses of Parliament prompted by their concerns.

Wantage and Didcot MP Ed Vaizey, who attended the debate, said: “Clearly Jack’s suicide came completely out of the blue. It quickly emerged that there could be a potential link with Roaccutane.

“My view is that we should vastly improve the warning that it causes depression if the research backs it.”

Mr Vaizey said he was hoping that health minister, Earl Howe, would hold a meeting with affected families and their MPs “as soon as possible”.

Oxford GP Joe McManners said it was reasonable that only specialist physicians could prescribe the drug.

He added: “If it is prescribed, they tend to monitor it a bit closer with blood tests and generally an interview before and afterwards, and it is not normally used for very long.”

A spokesman for Roche, which manufactures the drug, said: “Unfortunately, severe acne can cause some sufferers to become depressed and can also affect their mood and self-esteem. This is why the information provided with Roaccutane carries a warning that some patients may experience mood changes, including an increase in depression.”

Recording an open verdict at Jack’s inquest in July, the coroner said there was insufficient evidence to say Jack had taken his own life. It ruled he had died by strangulation.


  • Roaccutane is a trade name for the chemical compound isotretinoin
  • The drug is not available over the counter and can only be prescribed by a specialist, not as GP
  • Roche says doctors prescribing the drug should monitor all patients carefully for signs of depression