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Studies Backing SSRI Antidepressants for Autism Show Bias, Report Claims

Filed April 25th, 2012 Laurie

Many doctors believe that certain antidepressants are beneficial in helping autistic children with repetitive behaviors, but a new review of published and unpublished research shows that view might be based on incomplete information. The same drugs are used to treat people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Melisa Carrasco, a researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and her colleagues studied PubMed and ClinicalTrials.gov for randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trials that supported the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants and similar drugs in children with autism. The researchers found 15 trials, and Carrasco’s team contacted the researchers of the unpublished trials to ask them for their data. One researcher forwarded his findings to the team.

Out of 365 participants in the six studies, only a small number responded to being given the SSRIs. When researchers accounted for the studies that were completed but never published, the association disappeared.
Carrasco and her team say that when only the positive findings get published and the negative findings are never seen, the evidence is said to be subject to “publication bias.”

“The research made it clear that the effects of (serotonin receptor inhibitors) treatment of (autism spectrum disorders) are considerably overrated,” Carrasco and colleagues wrote in the journal Pediatrics.

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