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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 58 (2016) 6, 446 - 454

New research

Prevalence of the use of psychoactive medication to treat young persons with autism spectrum disorder in the province of Antwerp, Belgium

E. Heyde, M. Dhar, H. Hellemans, E. Schoentjes, D. Van West

background Very little information is available concerning the prevalence of the use of medication for treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (asd), particularly in European countries. Earlier studies have shown that a large number of patients with asd use at least one psychoactive drug and that the numbers are increasing. Even in the nineties, studies suggested that the frequent use of psychoactive medication was widespread, although at the time there were only limited grounds for this assumption.
aim To assess the prevalence with which psychoactive medication and complementary and alternative medicine (cam) are being used for treating young people with asd, and also to investigate relations between medication use and a number of individual characteristics that are included in the Behavioral Model of Health Service Use.
method The study sample (0-17 years) in the province of Antwerp, Belgium, was recruited by various means. We used a questionnaire that had been previously used in North American studies and that had to be completed by the parents of the young persons involved in the study.
results We included data from 263 questionnaires. In our sample 42.6% of the young persons used one or more one psychoactive drug. More than 12.2% used more than one drug. The most frequently used psychoactive drugs were adhd-medication (31.6%) and antipsychotics (16.7%). About 14% used at least one cam. We found a positive relationship between the use of medication and psychiatric comorbidity and/or epilepsy, the severity of autism and the parents’ living conditions.
conclusion We found a relatively low use of antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilisers and sedatives, the prevalence being lower that that reported in North American studies. Our findings appear to be in accordance with current clinical guidelines.

keywords autism spectrum disorder, young persons, treatment, psychoactive medication