Hoffmann-La Roche, the U.S. manufacturer of Accutane, is now facing the first of a number of lawsuits expected in Canada over the long-term effects of the drug.

The case is that of 33-year-old Jennifer Twamley. She took Accutane for six months at the age of 17 and now suffers from Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease lawyers say is a side effect of the drug.

As a result she has suffered severe abdominal pain, frequent and uncontrolled bowel movements and has had two surgeries, including the removal of her colon.

She says “Accutane has had a devastating impact on my life and lifestyle – it’s certainly impacted the choices I’ve had to make both professionally and personally.”

She says she was always an active teen, but now any activity that isn’t close to a rest room is impossible for Twamley to pursue.

The law firms Legate & Associates and Harrison Pensa are handling the mass tort, a group of lawsuits by individuals who share similar complaints as a result of their experience with the drug.

In a statement lawyer Barb Legate says Canadians weren’t warned about the drug’s side effects “We believe there are thousands of victims in Canada who have been hurt by Accutane. We are seeking justice for them.”

Lawyer Dave Williams of Harrison Pensa adds many don’t realize the connection, “Studies in the U.S. have found that Accutane is linked to inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease.”

In the U.S. Hoffmann-La Roche has already been successfully sued over the manufacturing and sale of Accutane. And while it is no longer sold south of the border, it continues to be available in Canada.

About 16 million people have used the drug in North America and thousands claim to have suffered debilitating side effects from depression and suicide to gastrointestinal problems.

Court documents also show in the 1980s pregnant women who were taking the medication had miscarriages, premature births or children with birth defects.

Those problems led to warnings and restrictions on how the drug is prescribed to women.

Twamley’s $8.25-million lawsuit is one of the first in Canada involving the acne drug, and lawyers say it is a test case for more than a dozen others being prepared against the company.

The legal team also hopes other victims will come forward.

In a statement, Hoffman-La Roche says “Our sympathies remain with the plaintiffs over their [irritable bowel disorder], the Company believes that there is no reliable scientific evidence that Accutane causes this disease and that La Roche acted appropriately in providing information to the medical, scientific and regulatory communities.”