Autism Drug Is Ineffective, Causes Significant Side Effects
A drug commonly given to autistic children to reduce repetitive behaviors is ineffective compared to placebo and, in some children, may actually increase repetitive behaviors, the largest study of autistic children to date has found.
“What we found, much to our surprise, is that there was no significant difference in positive response between kids treated with citalopram and kids who received the placebo. And the kids treated with citalopram tended to have more side effects,” says Linmarie Sikich, MD, a coauthor of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Citalopram, which is sold under the brand name Celexa, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Results of the study, a randomized controlled clinical trial of the drug citalopram, were published in Archives of General Psychiatry. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and took place at six academic medical centers across the country.
Hypothesizing that citalopram would improve the overall functioning of autistic children and adolescents by reducing repetitive behavior, Sikich and colleagues recruited 149 children aged 5 to 17 to take part in the 12-week trial. Seventy-three received daily doses of liquid citalopram while 76 received daily doses of liquid placebo. Researchers measured the children’s’ response to treatment using the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale. They also recorded measures of repetitive behavior and side effects.
At the end of the trial, some children in both groups showed a positive response. However, there was no significant difference between the groups: the positive response in the citalopram group was 32.9% vs. 34.2% in the placebo group. In addition, children in the citalopram group were significantly more likely to experience adverse side effects such as increased energy level, impulsiveness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, increased repetitive movements and behaviors, diarrhea, insomnia, and dry itchy skin.
The researchers concluded that citalopram “is not an effective treatment” for autistic children with repetitive behaviors. In addition, they wrote, this trial shows that the use of SSRIs in autistic children “is not without risk” and “at present there is insufficient research evidence to merit a clear recommendation regarding the use of SSRIs as a class” for the treatment of repetitive behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders.
— Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine