Author(s): Donna Spencer, Jaclyn Marshall, Brady Post, Mahesh Kulakodlu, Craig Newschaffer
OBJECTIVE: The objectives of this study were to examine rates and predictors of psychotropic use and multiclass polypharmacy among commercially insured children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). METHODS: This retrospective observational study used administrative medical and pharmacy claims data linked with health plan enrollment and sociodemographic information from 2001 to 2009. Children with ASD were identified by using a validated ASD case algorithm. Psychotropic polypharmacy was defined as concurrent medication fills across ≥2 classes for at least 30 days. Multinomial logistic regression was used to model 5 categories of psychotropic use and multiclass polypharmacy. RESULTS: Among 33 565 children with ASD, 64% had a filled prescription for at least 1 psychotropic medication, 35% had evidence of psychotropic polypharmacy (≥2 classes), and 15% used medications from ≥3 classes concurrently. Among children with polypharmacy, the median length of polypharmacy was 346 days. Older children, those who had a psychiatrist visit, and those with evidence of co-occurring conditions (seizures, attention-deficit disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression) had higher odds of psychotropic use and/or polypharmacy. CONCLUSIONS: Despite minimal evidence of the effectiveness or appropriateness of multidrug treatment of ASD, psychotropic medications are commonly used, singly and in combination, for ASD and its co-occurring conditions. Our results indicate the need to develop standards of care around the prescription of psychotropic medications to children with ASD.