Increase in Psychoactive Drug Prescriptions in the Years Following Autism Spectrum Diagnosis: A Population-Based Cohort Study

Background: Psychoactive medications are commonly prescribed to autistic individuals, but little is known about how their use changes after diagnosis. Objectives This study describes the use of psychoactive drugs in children and young adults newly diagnosed with autism spectrum, between the year before and up to 5 years after diagnosis.

Methods: Multivariable logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between the use of psychoactive drugs before the fi rst diagnosis of autism spectrum condition (from 1998 to 2010), and the clinical and demographic characteristics, identifi ed from public health care databases in Quebec. The types of drugs prescribed and psychoactive polypharmacy were evaluated over 5 years of follow-up. Generalized estimating equations (GEE) were used to examine the association of age and time with the use of psychoactive drugs.

Results: In our cohort of 2,989 individuals, diagnosis of another psychiatric disorder before autism spectrum strongly predicted psychoactive drug use. We observed that the proportion of users of psychoactive drugs increased from 35.6% the year before, to 53.2% 5 years after the autism spectrum diagnosis. Psychoactive polypharmacy (≥2 psychoactive drug classes) also increased from 9% to 22% in that time. Age and time since diagnosis strongly associated with the types and combinations of psychoactive drugs prescribed.

Conclusion: Psychoactive drug use and polypharmacy increases substantially over time after autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in children.

Author(s): Caroline Croteau, Laurent Mottron, Nancy Presse, Jean-Eric Tarride, Marc Dorais, Sylvie Perreault