Could depression drugs ease obsessive behaviors in autism? Maybe not

In a new study, researchers found the commonly used antidepressant Prozac doesn’t appear to help reduce obsessive-compulsive behavior in children and teens with autism.

The research was done by a team from Royal Children’s Hospital in Victoria, Australia and elsewhere.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) include a range of conditions that lead to communication challenges, social skills difficulties, and repetitive behaviors.

There are a number of restrictive and repetitive behaviors related to autism.

These behaviors can vary from person to person but may include repetitive body movements, ritualistic behaviors, a need for an unchanging routine and an extreme interest in certain topics.

These behaviors can interfere with everyday living. More than half of children with an autism spectrum disorder are prescribed medication, and about one-third take antidepressant medication.

However, these medications are being used even though there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that they work for obsessive-compulsive behaviors in autism.

In the study, the team compared the use of the drug to placebo over 16 weeks and found no meaningful clinical benefits from the drug.

They tested 109 kids, and half of the group was given fluoxetine (between 4 and 30 milligrams daily) for four months.

The other half was given a placebo daily for four months. Fluoxetine is a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, a class of antidepressants commonly called SSRIs.

The team found that there was little evidence for the effectiveness of fluoxetine [Prozac]. The evidence is not strong enough to recommend it as a treatment.

They say that as people gain further understanding of the effects of medication in individual children—personalized medicine—it may be possible to determine more precisely which children, if any, are likely to gain benefit from the use of these drugs.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Dinah Reddihough, a pediatrician.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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