Drugs aren’t always the answer


By Lisa Ackerman

A new study has revealed a shocking fact: nearly two-thirds of kids diagnosed with autism are on medications (1.) This report nearly took my breath away.

Here is what they also said:

Despite limited evidence supporting the practice, researchers say nearly two-thirds of children with autism are taking at least one psychotropic drug.

In a review of medical and pharmacy claims data for 33,565 kids with autism between 2001 and 2009, researchers found that 64 percent of children on the spectrum were prescribed at least one psychotropic medication.

What’s more, the study published online Monday in the Journal Pediatrics, found that 35 percent of kids with the developmental disorder were given two or more types of drugs simultaneously and 15 percent were taking at least three.

Older children and those with co-occurring conditions like seizures, attention-deficit disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression were more likely to be taking psychotropic drugs, the study found.

While many medications can do wonders, can psychotropic drugs be the long term answer for our children?

I am very concerned about their long term use on children. Has this been studied? What if there is an underlying medical condition that needs treatment?

The marvels of western medicine have solved many chronic health issues where medications have been a big part of the solution. I have a deep respect for advancements in medicine. But, has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction– are we using drugs when there are other natural remedies available? Just watch any TV show and count the number of drug commercials featured. (I did that last night, and 3 drug commercials were aired within a 30 minute span during the ABC 6:30pm News with Diane Sawyer).

For autism I know doctors will use psychotropic drugs to buy time for investigating radical changes in behavior and aggression. They then test for treatable issues, diagnose, and treat what they find. They then remove psychotropic drugs. In these cases they are used as stop gap measures not long term fixes.

We also know for many with autism drugs can lose their effectiveness even after dosages are increased. Prescribed drugs are not always a long term solution.

Another disturbing trend is the disregard of possible natural dietary supplementation. CHOP Hospital announced this past week that they will be the first US hospital to ban dietary supplements from its pharmacy (2.)

Granted supplements are not approved or monitored by the FDA, but is this approval the only sign of quality and scientific validity? Especially, since the FDA approves many drugs that can have adverse side effects. Hundreds of drugs get pulled from the market due to unintended negative circumstances and deaths (3.)

I find CHOP’s action quite interesting. In The Physicians’ Desk Reference, standards of care for all known medical issues highlight supplementation as the most effective route for common issues such as:

  • Iron deficiency
  • Vitamin B deficiency
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Zinc to treat patients with different wound stages
  • Flora-Q (probiotic) for C-Diff (Clostridium difficile) patients in the hospital setting
  • The “mito cocktail” for mitochondria dysfunction or disease
  • Magnesium is used for heartburn and constipation
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid is used for treating diabetes and diabetic nerve pain
  • Calcium for treating osteoporosis
  • DHEA for improving symptoms of lupus, schizophrenia and weak bones
  • Folic acid is used across many different types of cancers and also in the prevention of folic acid deficiency in pregnancy
  • Glucosamine for arthritis, back pain and glaucoma
  • And much more. The list goes on…

While I appreciate medical research and FDA regulations, I don’t feel that all the answers to my problems are available in a prescription pad. For my family, I would much rather investigate dietary and natural interventions first. If there are no interventions available, then I will consider and investigate any prescription options, while carefully studying the possibility of many side effects.

I know medications save lives, but we also need to understand and respect their use. Parents need to investigate side effects, review long term use studies, and have a thorough conversation about this information with their doctor. I also respect that a pill is not always the cure for every ailment.

At TACA, we have seen many stories of families whose children had been prescribed anti-psychotropic drugs that masked symptoms that lead to treatable medical issues. Issues such as: migraines, seizures, tooth abscess, gastrointestinal issues, severe environmental allergies, overgrowth of bacteria or parasites– a list that can take several pages! When the hallmark of the autism diagnosis resides in the inability or impaired ability to communicate, parents have to investigate all possible causes for changes in behavior, mood, regression and aggression.

As demonstrated by our family stories, the journey towards healing serious issues always starts with finding a skillful doctor willing to take the time to run tests in order to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan.

While I realize that not every single story has the same beginning or ending, sometimes investigating additional options is clearly warranted. We recommend parents to exhaust and consider all options including medications, nutrition and dietary supplements. Families can consider best practices to address autism symptoms (4) and work with a qualified doctor to investigate any possible underlying, treatable medical conditions (5.)

healthy foodsupplements


1) News: http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/10/21/nearly-two-thirds-meds/18822/
Study: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/10/16/peds.2012-3774.full.pdf+html

2) http://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffreykabat/2013/10/18/childrens-hospital-of-philadelphia-bans-dietary-supplements-from-its-pharmacy/

3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_withdrawn_drugs

4) https://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/what-autism-symptoms-mean/

5) https://tacanow.org/family-resources/finding-a-doctor/

5 thoughts on “Drugs aren’t always the answer

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  1. I don’t understand why Paul Offit makes it his life mission to openly attack the alternative autism community with his books, positions of power, etc. Clearly the guy must not have any tie to a child or life with autism. That or he is Satan’s long lost brother! I suppose he is a smart guy but he is promoting and pushing his own agenda at the cost of many children. I thought science was supposed to be open minded. How else would doctors and scientists come up with new hypotheses to test and research? Some of the best doctors I have seen for my son with ASD are those whose lives have been touched personally by autism.

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