Treating children suffering from autism spectrum disorders with antidepressant drugs may be a theory based on incomplete information, according to new research on an analysis of studies which conclude these treatments are safe and effective.
According to a Reuters report on a new study from University of Michigan, a “publication bias” has led to only five previous studies of the effect of antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) on autism have ever been published in medical journals and most yielded a positive result. For their study, the researchers at Michigan also included one study that was never published because it yielded a negative result.
Combining the six studies, just 365 children were included and half were positive and half were negative in their reporting of the impact on SSRI drugs and other antidepressants on autism disorders in children. The report states, “a small response” from the children to those drugs were noted among the five published studies but when the facts from the unpublished study was considered, the statistical benefit was eliminated.
The Michigan study is published in the journal Pediatrics and authors of the study wrote in an accompanying piece, “The research made it clear that the effects of (serotonin receptor inhibitors) treatment of (autism spectrum disorders) are considerably overrated,” the report cites.
Researchers noted that all indications related to autism disorders in children should be ruled out for the use of SSRI drugs and other antidepressants, admitting that among the research used in their study, some evidence suggests there is some benefits to treating “conditions associated with autism” like anxiety. Also, these drugs may be helpful in other indications related to autism but more research is needed.
Nine previously published and unpublished studies on the impact of SSRI and other antidepressant drugs on autism disorders were not considered for the Michigan study because they did not meet the criteria used by the researchers.
The study also noted the shortfalls of reporting the results of clinical trials and just how many studies never get published for one reason or another. In many cases, the makers of a drug who obtain funding for a study will never publish that study because they don’t agree with or don’t like the results. Reuters also noted another entry in the same edition of Pediatrics which highlights this trend.
Between 2000 and 2010, at least 2,400 studies of the impact of prescription drugs on children were registered in a national database but just more than one-fourth of those have ever been published in medical journals, where doctors most often go to make seemingly unbiased decisions on whether or not to use a drug for an off-label treatment. Only 53 percent of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health have ever been published.