Dermatologists cop online harassment over isotretinoin


4 May 2021

Dermatologists in the UK are seeking protection from online abuse and vexatious complaints from antivax-style activists opposed to the use of isotretinoin for acne.

The British Association of Dermatologists says dermatologists are being trolled, abused and slandered online by individuals and ‘patient groups’ who believe the anti-acne treatment is responsible for suicidal thoughts and other adverse effects.

The abuse is directed in particular at dermatologists who have provided expert scientific advice to regulatory bodies about the use of isotretinoin in acne.

“It has come to the attention of the BAD that there has been an ongoing, targeted harassment campaign against a number of dermatologists in relation to statements they have made and work they have done on the topic of isotretinoin,” the Association said

“This harassment has predominantly taken place on social media, particularly Instagram, but also includes phone calls and complaints to regulatory bodies.”

Dermatologists are advised not to engage or respond to individuals who target them with abuse or complaints, but to document the harassment, block the perpetrators and report the social media accounts for abuse.

“If you have concerns for your safety, or if the harassment escalates beyond social media, report it to the police,” they advise.

Some dermatologists have also been subject to a campaign of vexatious referrals to regulatory bodies with allegations about their fitness to practice as a result of their research, use and advocacy of isotretinoin for patients with acne

In response, the dermatology professional body has liaised with the BMA, medical defence organisations and the UK healthcare regulator, the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, to develop guidelines on behaviour for complainants and also on how to respond to complaints.

And while it would not change its complaints process the General Medical Council said it would remain vigilant for vexatious complaints and provide a ‘fast track’ resolution for those related to dermatologists and isotretinoin, as an alternative to a full-scale investigation.

Some groups in the UK have taken a hardline anti-isotretinoin stance, accusing dermatologists of ‘poisoning’ and injuring patients with the drug. They have accused dermatologists of being swayed by the pharmaceutical industry – even though the drug has long been off patent – and have called for use of the drug to be banned in under 18s.

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