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SSRIs and Autism – The High Price Paid By Families

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We recently blogged about new research lead by the director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente showing a link between use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) by pregnant women and autism. The research suggests that mothers who use an SSRI during the first trimester of their pregnancy have a three-fold increased risk for their child developing autism. This report is significant given the costs for treatment of autism that families incur over the lifetime of their child.

In 2006 research authored by Michael Ganz, Assistant Professor of Society, Human Development at the Harvard School of Public Health, estimated the costs of caring for autistic children. The study suggests that

It can cost about $3.2 million to take care of an autistic person over his or her lifetime. Caring for all people with autism over their lifetimes costs an estimated $35 billion per year. Those figures are part of the findings in the first study to comprehensively survey and document the costs of autism to U.S. society. Michael Ganz, Assistant Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health, authored the study, which appears in a chapter titled, “The Costs of Autism,” in the newly published book, Understanding Autism: From Basic Neuroscience to Treatment (CRC Press, 2006).

These staggering numbers show the personal sacrifices parents go through in getting their autistic children treated. Battles have been brewing for years between insurance companies and parents of these children where insurance companies have failed to pay for these needed services.

Now, with this new research showing a possible link between SSRIs and autism, the next question is what did the pharmaceutical giants producing these drugs know? If they did know of the risks or should have known of the risks then it stands to reason that they should be held responsible for the treatment needed by these children during their lifetimes.

8 Comments

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  1. Kimberlee says:
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    Having taken antidepressants while pregnant and having a child with ASD I have to wonder was there really any other choice? Being pregnant is not a time to change medications and not taking medications is simply not an option for some people. I had no way of knowing when or if I would become pregnant so my depression was my main concern. I was told that the medication had yielded no reportable problems and was concencered safe with minimal risks and that my risks going off the meds far out weighed that of to the child.

    So did we really have any choice at all but to take the medication to ensure our own safety and mental health? I think not. I could not have managed without medication.

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    Kimberlee:

    Thank you for your comment as it is both informative and poses a very interesting question.

    Our firm has been active in SSRI litigation regarding congenital defects primarily involving the heart over the past several years. One of the things I have come to realize is that women are rarely apprised of the risks of medications when they become pregnant and as such are not able to ask or determine if there are safer alternatives to treat symptoms such as depression, anxiety or other issues.

    I view this is a very important question for all women of child bearing age. I think it’s important that patients be apprised of all the risks (especially those as significant as presented in the above referenced study) of a particular drug so that they can make an informed decision. What sadly happens is drug companies often keep patients in the dark as to the true risks of a drug. They don’t effectively monitor adverse event reports and sometimes ignore or improperly influence studies on the efficacy versus risks of a particular drug.

    In my opinion it all goes to communication. No one can be expected to make a decision if they are not properly informed. Sadly, it has often times fallen on third parties to hold drug companies accountable. Once again, thanks for your comment.

  3. Tess says:
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    I went to the nation’s top hospital to get advice about the possible risks to my child if I was on my medications while pregnant. I was advised that the benefits of being on the drugs far outweighed any possible known risk to the baby. Had the doctor said anything different, I would not have had a child at all, because going off my medications was not a viable option. I took both Luvox and Wellbutrin throughout my pregnancy. My son was born with a VSD (congenital heart defect) and has ASD. Not sure I would have gotten pregnant had I known there was an elevated risk of either of these.

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    I was not on any medications while pregnant with my son who is now 18 years old with “classic” autism. I am a RH negative mom and did receive a shot while pregnant with him and that shot did contain thermisol….. the preservative which contains mercury… I believe that has played an important triggering piece in my son’s autism puzzle.

  5. debi says:
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    Any potential causes of autism should certainly be addressed. But only a few of those who have children with autism took SSRIs during pregnancy. I never in my life took them until 4 yrs after my child was born, and it was the autism that triggered the need. Please do not assume if a child has autism that mother took SSRIs. It is but 1 potential link out there, along with vaccines.

  6. Tracy says:
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    There has long been a link between a family history of depression and having children with autism. THIS is the explanation for the link between anti-depressants and children with autism. You are more likely to have a child with autism whether you take the medication or not, so if you need it, don’t skip it. I am the parent of an autistic child. I didn’t take anti-depressants during or for three years before pregnancy but I do have a family history of depression. My daughter is autistic and she is a happy, fun adorable girl. She loves music and puzzles and learned numbers and letters before she was two! All children have challenges. Frankly, the diagnosis of autism is a relief compared to some other more-life threatening conditions that present with similar symptoms at an early age. My daughter has received excellent services from the local infant and toddler’s program and will be going to a special public school preschool in the fall. There are resources out there and a huge support network of parents of children with autism. If you end up having a child with autism, it is not the end of the world but the beginning of an amazing adventure. I wouldn’t trade my daughter for the world.

  7. Kimberlee says:
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    I would not necessarily say that the antidepressants caused my child’s autism as there is definitely a genetic link to autism. But one theroery that is being considered is that by taking antidepressants you kindle or increase the chances of a child already predisposed to autism. In short my child may have had autism without my medications, however my medications just activated the autism mutation that was already there. Much like the marijuana use and schizophrenia.

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    Tess:

    I’m sorry for the conditions your child suffers from. I wanted to take a moment to highlight your comment that the doctor informed you that the benefits far outweighed KNOWN risks.

    I have no idea how old your child is but sadly much of the information we now know that SSRIs present to children in utero has come about in the past 3 – 4 years.

    Your question brings to light the most pressing concerns about pharmaceuticals which is whether doctors and patients are being presented true and accurate information about the risks of a particular drug. Lawsuits and studies have consistently shown that Big Pharma tends to overlook and/or underreport risks that may (or may not at times) been known to them.