The study, published online ahead of the November print issue of Pediatrics, found 64 percent of U.S. children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have been prescribed at least one psychotropic medication.
Donna Spencer and Mahesh Kulakodlu of Life Sciences in Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Jaclyn Marshall and Brady Post of The Lewin Group in Falls Church in Virginia; Craig Newschaffer of the Drexel University School of Public Health; and Francisca Azocar in OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions in San Francisco and colleagues analyzed health plan medical and pharmacy claims, as well as socio-demographic information, from 2001-09.
The study also found 35 percent of children diagnosed with ASD were simultaneously prescribed two or more medications involving multiple psychotropic classes and lasting at least 30 days, or "psychotropic polypharmacy," and 15 percent had evidence of polypharmacy involving three or more drug classes.
Psychotropic polypharmacy means taking more than one mental health medication.
Common combinations of medication classes included anti-depressants and attention-deficit disorder medications; anti-psychotic medications and ADD medications; anti-psychotic medication and anti-depressants; and anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and ADD medications, the researchers said.
Some clinicians caring for children with ASD might not be aware of the extent and effects of psychotropic use, especially in combination with other drugs, and this may be a concern particularly for these complex children who often see multiple providers, Spencer said.