Trauma reactivation under propranolol among traumatized Syrian refugee children: An open label clinical trial

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Sarah Thierrée, Sami Richa, Alain Brunet, Laurine Egreteau, Quentin Roig, David Clarys & Wissam El-Hage

Introduction: There is a dearth of therapeutic solutions for traumatized young patients. Trauma reactivation conducted under the influence of the reconsolidation blocker propranolol (Reconsolidation Therapy) is a simple, cost-effective treatment option that has some promising initial results in adults suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Objectives: To explore the usefulness of this novel treatment in children. The primary outcome was the reduction of PTSD symptoms at the end of treatment, while secondary outcomes included reduction in anxiety and in depressive symptoms.

Methods: An open-label clinical trial was conducted in a refugee camp in Syria, investigating the safety and efficacy of this therapeutic strategy in 117 children suffering from enduring PTSD symptoms. Participants received propranolol 90 minutes before briefly recalling (i.e., reactivating) a single personal traumatic memory, for 5 consecutive days. Self-reported anxiety, depressive, and PTSD symptoms were assessed at baseline, as well as 4 and 13 weeks after treatment.

Results: A significant, clinically meaningful symptom reduction was observed at all post-treatment measurement times vs. baseline. More specifically, between baseline and the 13-week follow-up we observed a 64% PTSD symptoms reduction (d = 2.71). In a similar vein, we obtained a 39% symptoms reduction for depressive symptoms (d = 1.01). The general anxiety symptoms improved, but eventually returned to prior level, probably because of the deteriorating living conditions in the camp.

Conclusions: This therapy appeared as a potentially safe and useful treatment strategy for children suffering from PTSD symptoms, warranting replication studies using stronger study designs. The social acceptability and ease of implementation of the treatment should also be noted.

Keywords: Traumatic stress; children; War; Drug-Psychotherapy Combination; posttraumatic stress disorder; Propranolol; Psychotherapy

Received 07 Sep 2019, Accepted 13 Feb 2020, Published online: 03 Mar 2020

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