Trends in Medication Use to Manage Symptoms of Autism Comorbidities

June 13, 2021

Taking Several Drugs at Once Common for People on the Spectrum

A new retrospective, population-based cohort study has analyzed prescription frequency and diagnoses of comorbidities among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Published in JAMA Pediatrics, this study mined data through a nationwide managed health plan claims database from January 1, 2014 until December 31, 2019. A total of 26,722 individuals on the spectrum were identified from the over 86 million unique database members. While pharmacological intervention is not intended to cure or reverse autism, certain medications can treat symptoms of ASD and comorbid conditions which include intellectual disabilities, language delays, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, agitation, irritability, disruptive behavior, and sleep disorders. Approximately 83% of children and adolescents on the spectrum in the United States have at least one co-occurring developmental disorder and 70% display a co-occurring psychiatric condition. Using pharmacological interventions to treat these comorbidities has resulted in varying degrees of success. The study’s authors assessed the 24 most common medications prescribed to people with autism and found that polypharmacy was common. About 30% of the study’s subject’s had prescription regiments that changed often. The researchers discovered that of the 24 medications studied, the majority were used to treat mood disorders, followed by ADHD, and anxiety. In the end, the study found that people on the spectrum have considerable variability and transiency in the use of prescription medications. The study’s authors call for early and ongoing surveillance of patients with ASD and comorbidities in order to offer insight on the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments on their symptoms. They believe this is especially important due to the size of the ever growing autism population.

Original Study

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