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'Publication Bias' Casts Doubt on Value of Antidepressants for Autism
Date:4/23/2012

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- Studies that show a type of antidepressant eases autism symptoms are more likely to get published in medical journals than studies concluding the drugs don't improve common behaviors such as rocking and hand-flapping, new research says.

That "publication bias" may mean that physicians believe the medications -- known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) -- are more effective than they really are for children with these behaviors. Indeed, when researchers combined the data from published studies and those that never made it into print, the new analysis showed that SSRIs don't help repetitive behaviors much at all.

"At least from what we have right now, we need more information to determine if SSRIs are useful in treating repetitive behavior," said study author Melisa Carrasco, of the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "I don't think we're trying to say they should not be used at all in autism. There is some compelling evidence toward their use in treating anxiety disorders in autism."

The study, in the May print issue of Pediatrics, appears online April 23.

The study also calls into question the effectiveness of current methods used to evaluate drugs, particularly pediatric drugs, in the United States. One expert said the findings have implications for countless other drug trials for other conditions.

It's long been recognized that drug trials that show the drug is effective are more likely to be published in peer-reviewed journals, where the results are widely read and disseminated to doctors, said Dr. Scott Denne, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

"Positive studies are exciting and potentially groundbreaking. Negative studies are not particularly exciting and at least in the estimation of
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