A few days ago I stumbled upon an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about an experimental treatment for various disorders, including autism. The treatment involves stimulation of various parts of the brain using magnetic fields. The treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation or (TMS).
In my last post (see below) I pointed out an interesting article in the NYT about a new trend in diagnosing preschool age children with clinical depression. In the post I expressed concern about that and another trend I had noticed myself recently while reading about autism, which is an increase in co-diagnosing autism with other disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to children receiving these diagnoses. Without having researched the issue very deeply, though, I indicated that I was probably being too critical.
Well, today there is yet another fascinating article in the NYT (see here) and coincidentally it is about this very issue of the new trend in prescribing antipsychotic drugs to young children. The article seems to validate (and then some) the concerns I expressed in my last post.
I read with great interest this article in the New York Times by Pamela Paul on childhood depression.
According to the article, researchers now believe that depression can be diagnosed in children as young as 2 or 3 years old, and the idea is apparently gaining wide acceptance in the medical community. The article quotes researchers who insist that only “hard-core scientists” and “laypeople” remain skeptical.
To me, the fact that “hard-core scientists” have reservations about this theory is a red flag and a cause for serious concern and not a sign that the ideas behind it are ready for wide application. What is reported in the following excerpt also concerns me:
Though research does not support the use of antidepressants in children this young, medication of preschoolers, often off label, is on the rise. One child psychologist told me about a conference he attended where he met frustrated drug-industry representatives. “They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.” As Daniel Klein warns, “Right now the problem may be underdiagnosis, but these things can flip completely.
Perhaps I am interpreting this quote the wrong way, but can anyone blame me for feeling that the drug companies are drooling over the prospect of expanding the market for their anti-depressant drugs to include pre-schoolers and other children?
Let me repeat that last part again:
They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.
Does that not sound like a solution looking for a problem?
A few autism-related news items of note over the past week:
(1) [No surprise] Anti-depressants found to be ineffective for treatment of autism
The Boston Globe reports the following:
Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders have trouble with communication and social interaction. There are no drugs specifically approved to treat these problems, although antidepressants are sometimes recommended. But a new analysis finds no evidence that they help people with autism and some signs that they may cause harm in children.
The full story is here.
Dave: Last time I checked anti-depressants were found to be barely better than placebos in treating depression, which is the disease they were designed for, so it’s hardly surprising to me that they don’t work for autism. As far as I know, it has never been demonstrated that there is a link between low serotonin levels and autism, so it is hard to understand how these drugs could help address autistic symptoms. But with roughly 1% of the population suffering from this disease, it clearly behooves drug companies to promote this as a possible treatment, especially since they wouldn’t have to spend any money on development.
Posted in Autism
Tagged autism, health
I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog: Toasts and Tributes.
Every few weeks (or as often as I can manage) I’ll toast one or more people who have demonstrated the courage to “do the right thing” even when it is not always popular.
This week’s recipients of this honour go to:
1) Missouri Governor Jay Nixon
Despite leading to possible increases in health insurance premiums, last week Nixon signed a bill requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of therapy – up to $40,000 per year to the age of 18 – for autistic children. This should be sufficient to cover the cost of 20 hours of ABA therapy per week for a child, often considered the minimum amount necessary to achieve meaningful results.
Jay, not only are you doing the right thing from an ethical point of view, essentially giving autistic children a chance at a meaningful life, but you are also doing the right thing from a financial point of view as well. Studies (e.g., here) indicate that the total cost to society per autistic person due to lost productivity and the need for specialized services can be anywhere from $3-4 million over a lifetime. Early intervention can reduce that cost considerably. It has been shown that ABA therapy alone can reduce the cost by almost half (Jacobsen et al, 1998; Jarbrink and Knapp, 2000). Continue reading
Like most Canadians I was somewhat disturbed to learn recently that the security costs for the upcoming G20 summit in Toronto will exceed $1 billion. Given that it allegedly cost a mere $30 million to secure the London summit in April 2009 and $18 million to secure Pittsburgh last September, I would say that Canadian taxpayers are certainly entitled to question a security bill that is several orders of magnitude greater than that for previous, comparable events. Continue reading