Popular Autism Drug Is Ineffective
> 6/2/2009 1:07:56 PM

Clinical trials have proven popular SSRI antidepressant Celexa (Citalopram) ineffective for the treatment of autistic spectrum disorders. In keeping with the frustrations that continue to plague the search for ASD medications, the drug tested no better than placebo.

The NIMH-funded study was very specific in testing Celexa’s reported ability to moderate the repetitive behavioral tics common in autistic children. The drug has not been approved for such treatments, but it has grown somewhat popular among doctors who precribe it with the hope that its ability to suppress the pleasure/anxiety hormone serotonin will also help to regulate autistic quirks. Celexa has been known to provide some relief from anxiety and various compulsions but this study's final numbers, to the surprise of all involved, reflected no net gains among the test group. In fact, 12-week results were in some ways better for placebo subjects, who displayed fewer of the repetitive physical gestures and outbursts that Celexa’s been proposed to treat throughout the study. 

An encouraging number of the study’s 149 children displayed improvements over the 12-week test period, but Celexa did not boost outcomes in any way, its 32.9% success rate trailing the placebo group’s 34.2%. Medicated kids also reported more adverse side effects including bursts of excessive energy, problems with focus and sleep and mechanical, repetitive physical movements. Statistical risks ultimately outweighed benefits for those on the drug; it seemed to increase the likelihood of the very symptoms it aimed to prevent.

Larger studies may play out differently, of course. Previous Celexa trials for the relief of obsessive-compulsive behaviors (which are also very common among autistic subjects) produced better numbers, but researchers draw a disappointing conclusion from this largest, most recent report: the development of new medications may continue as before, but Celexa’s effectiveness is less than certain.

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