Counterpoint: Don't be misled by autism-drug reporting

Dr. Elizabeth M. LaRusso, director of The Mother Baby Center mental health program.

[Star Tribune, December 21, 2015] This Counterpoint article by Dr. Elizabeth M. LaRusso, director of the The Mother Baby Center Mental Health Program at Allina Health/Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, discusses the risk of antidepressants for pregnant women which are oversimplified in recent reporting of a study on antidepressants and autism.

JAMA Pediatrics had just released a study suggesting that prenatal exposure to antidepressants may be associated with autism spectrum disorders. The Star Tribune published a summary from the Los Angeles Times (“Drugs for depression are linked to autism,” Dec. 15). My inbox was quickly flooded with messages from concerned patients and OB-GYNs.

The article that appeared in the Star Tribune led with the most alarming finding from the JAMA Pediatrics study: Women who used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants in late pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with autism as women who did not take SSRIs.

This study had significant limitations. The authors did not account for risk factors for autism, like family history of autism spectrum disorders, paternal age, or a mother’s use of alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs. They did not confirm whether women actually took the antidepressants doctors prescribed. Most important, the media coverage missed the crucial point: The study’s authors did not adequately account for severity of depression in the mothers studied, so there is no way to tell if the higher rates of autism spectrum disorders were due to use of SSRIs or to maternal depression.

Read the full article online at startribune.com.

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