Treatment algorithm for the use of psychopharmacological agents in individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol and/or with diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

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Mansfield Mela
Ana Hanlon-Dearman
AG Ahmed
Susan D. Rich
Rod Densmore
Dorothy Reid
Alasdair Barr
David Osser
Tara Anderson
Bola Suberu
Osman Ipsiroglu
Hasu Rajani
Christine Loock


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, Medication Algorithm, Psychiatric Medication, Psychopharmacological Agents


Psychotropic medication treatment of individuals who have experienced prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) has lagged behind psychosocial interventions. Multiple psychotropic medications are often prescribed for those diagnosed with a range of neurodevelopmental disabilities and impairments of PAE (neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure and/or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder [ND-PAE/FASD]). Despite the diverse comorbid mental disorders, there are no specific guidelines for psychotropic medications for individuals with ND-PAE/FASD. When prescribed, concerned family members and caregivers of individuals with ND-PAE/FASD reported that polypharmacy, which was typical and adverse effects render the psychotropic medications ineffective. The objective of this work was to generate a treatment algorithm for the use of psychopharmacological agents specifically for individuals with ND-PAE/FASD. The development of decision tree for use to prescribe psychotropic medications incorporated findings from previous research and the collective clinical experience of a multidisciplinary and international panel of experts who work with individuals with ND PAE/FASD, including an algorithm specialist. After multiple meetings and discussions, the experts reached consensus on how best to streamline prescribing along neurodevelopmental clusters. These were subdivided into four ligand-specific, receptor-acting medication targets (hyperarousal, emotional dysregulation, hyperactive/neurocognitive, and cognitive inflexibility). Each cluster is represented by a list of common symptoms. The experts recommended that prescribers first ensure adequate psychosocial and environmental, including sufficient dietary, exercise, and sleep support before prescribing psychotropic medications. Treatment then progresses through three steps of psychotropic medications for each cluster. To support established treatment goals, the most function impairing clusters are targeted first.
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