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Analysis Reveals Recent Acne Prescribing Trends

While oral antibiotics remained the most prescribed systemic treatment for women with acne, spironolactone use continued to grow and became nearly as common as oral antibiotics, results from an analysis of prescribing trends from 2017 through 2020 showed.

Dr John Barbieri

Notably, isotretinoin prescribing among men and women decreased slightly during the study period, “which may reflect ongoing administrative burdens associated with iPLEDGE,” study author John S. Barbieri, MD, MBA, of the department of dermatology, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, told this news organization.

For the cross-sectional study, which was published online as a research letter in JAMA Dermatology, Dr. Barbieri drew from the Truven Health MarketScan Commercial Claims Database from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, to identify individuals with an encounter for acne, prescriptions for oral tetracycline antibiotics (doxycycline, minocycline), other commonly prescribed oral antibiotics (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, amoxicillin, cephalexin), spironolactone, and isotretinoin. Only drug courses greater than 28 days were included in the analysis, and Dr. Barbieri stratified them according to clinician type (dermatologist, nondermatology physician, and nurse-practitioner or physician assistant). To normalize prescribing rates (to address possible changes in the number of patients treated for acne over time), the number of treatment courses prescribed each year was standardized to the number of encounters for acne with that clinician type during the same calendar year.

The study period included a mean of 1.9 million acne encounters per year.

Dr. Barbieri found that dermatologists prescribed more oral antibiotics per clinician for acne than any other major medical specialty and that oral antibiotics remained frequently prescribed for treating acne by both dermatologists and nondermatologists. “Among oral antibiotics, minocycline and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole remain relatively commonly prescribed, despite potential safety concerns and a lack of evidence that they are any more effective than doxycycline,” he said in an interview.

“Patient outcomes could likely be improved by reducing use of minocycline and particularly trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole given its high risk of serious side effects such as SJS/TEN [Stevens-Johnson syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis] and acute respiratory failure,” he added.

Dr. Barbieri noted that there are likely opportunities to consider nonantibiotic alternatives such as hormonal therapy (spironolactone, combined oral contraceptives) and isotretinoin. “There is also a need for continued research to identify nonantibiotic treatment options for patients with acne,” he said.

The analysis revealed that for women with acne prescriptions for spironolactone increased about three- to fourfold during the study period among all clinician types. In 2017, oral antibiotics were prescribed about two- to threefold more often than spironolactone, but by 2020 they were being prescribed at about the same frequency. “Given spironolactone may have similar effectiveness to oral antibiotics in the treatment of acne, this shift in practice has the potential to improve outcomes for patients by reducing the risk of antibiotic-associated complications,” Dr. Barbieri wrote. Still, in 2020, oral antibiotics were still slightly more commonly prescribed than spironolactone by nondermatology physicians and NP or PAs.

In other findings, isotretinoin prescribing decreased slightly among male and female patients during the study period. Among antibiotic prescriptions, prescribing for doxycycline increased at a higher rate than prescribing for minocycline, especially among dermatologists and NPs or PAs.

In the interview, Dr. Barbieri acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including the fact that the dataset “does not allow for evaluation of severity of acne and it is not possible to directly link prescriptions to diagnoses, so some prescriptions might not be for acne and others that are for acne might not have been included.”

Lawrence J. Green, MD, of the department of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, who was asked to comment on the results, said that, while a course of antibiotic therapy was tied to an office visit in the analysis, the duration of each course of therapy was unclear. It would be interesting to see if antibiotic courses became shorter during the time period analyzed, such as 1-3 months versus 4 or more months, he added, “as this should reduce risks associated with long-term use of oral antibiotics.”

Dr. Barbieri reported personal fees from Dexcel Pharma for consulting outside the submitted work. Dr. Green disclosed that he is a speaker, consultant, or investigator for numerous pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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