Campaigners are calling for better support for Scots who are reliant on antidepressants
A patient self-help group says Holyrood ministers must back the British Medical Association’s (BMA) plan for a UK-wide helpline and introduce specialist services to anyone taking psychoactive medication.
Psychotherapist Marion Brown, of Helensburgh-based Recovery and Renewal, launched a petition at the Scottish Parliament explaining “many people were suffering very severe and complex difficulties” with their medicines.
However, she said most doctors put them down to Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) which account to up to a fifth of all GP consultations in the UK.
The mental health expert said the rising problem of patients experiencing MUS and costing “huge amounts of money” to the NHS might be linked to the steady increase in prescribing of antidepressants.
Despite government pledges to reduce prescriptions, the number of individual items dispensed by the NHS in Scotland broke the six million-mark in 2015 for the first time, costing more than £44 million.
Petition claims many people were suffering very severe and complex difficulties
That is a rise of about 320,000 since 2014-15 and significantly more than the year before that. Prescriptions for mood-altering drugs — often given to children with activity disorders — are also on the increase.
The BMA estimates there are over one million long-term users of benzodiazepine, which is commonly prescribed for anxiety, and up to four million on antidepressants at any one time in the UK
It already has the support of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence (APPG-PDD) which accepts that patients may benefit from the drugs in the short-term but growing evidence suggested that long-term use leads to worse outcomes with people reporting “devastating, persistent withdrawal and other negative effects”.
Common mental health disorders Wed, November 2, 2016
Common mental health disorders from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.
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Ms Brown said: “In Scotland prescription dugs are free so if you are prescribed drugs you are likely to take them. That is not helping anyone.
“We need to make sure our doctors and government understand the long term impact of dispensing drugs like sweets.
“Coming off these drugs can be immensely difficult. They are taken in good faith with trust on the doctors’ professional expertise but then consequently found to have caused unexpected, serious harm.
“Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be a horrendous ordeal lasting for months or years.
The number of individual items dispensed by the NHS in Scotland broke the six million-mark in 2015
"It has been said that withdrawal is worse than coming off heroin and, for a minority of patients, it is torture of mind and body. Yet there is no dedicated support service for patients in withdrawal.”
She added that around 20 per cent of adults in Scotland are now taking some form of antidepressant medication with many experiencing physical MUS.
Ms Brown continued: “Because the side effects, tolerance effects and withdrawal effects of these medicines are not medically recognised for what they are, when patients develop these related effects/symptoms they are often prescribed other medicines and then polypharmacy confounds and complicates the problems further.
“Patients are repeatedly told to go back to their GPs and local health boards if they experience problems and are dissatisfied.
“This has the effect of discounting, disempowering and demoralising these unfortunately affected patients still further. It’s a vicious circle.
“This is a public health issue as acknowledged by the BMA. The current policy on prescribed drugs associated with dependence and withdrawal is completely inadequate.
“That is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to raise awareness of this issue and fully support the BMA’s recommendations and the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence (APPG-PDD) for the people of Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our new Mental Health Strategy, backed by £150million of new investment over the next five years, will improve treatment by prioritising early intervention and giving support, to those in need, fast. The Strategy has been shaped by feedback from organisations including Recovery and Renewal.
“NHS Scotland has published guidance for all clinicians on the need to review the prescribing of long-term medicines and the impact of withdrawing medicines. We support Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to consider the needs of their local area and to ensure that appropriate health care services are provided to meet the needs of their resident populations.”