THE cost of prescribing antidepressants has risen to £40 million, an increase of more than £10m on the year before.

New figures have revealed that soaring numbers of the drugs were dispensed during the last 12 months, with nearly 5.5 million items given to patients in 2013/14, up by 275,000 compared to the previous year.

Research by the Scottish Conservatives found the total cost to the taxpayer of antidepressants is now more than £40 million, compared to £29.5 million in 2012/13.

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The Tories said the steep rise comes despite repeated SNP pledges they would cut the number of people prescribed pills to fight depression and anxiety.

Figures from NHS Scotland show the average cost per item dispensed also increased, from £5.66 in 2012/13 to £7.29 this year.

The Scottish Conservatives have said the rise in cost is hitting hard-pressed NHS budgets and drugs are not necessarily the best way of helping those with mild-to-moderate depression.

A range of experts have said alternatives such as counselling and encouraging a healthy lifestyle and other social changes could be more suitable.

Official statistics also show that the drugs were dispensed to 747,158 patients in Scotland in 2012/13, an increase of 28,828 people on the previous year.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said: "The SNP made a very strong promise in 2007 to cut the rise in antidepressants handed out across Scotland. But since that pledge, the numbers have completely spiralled out of control.

"This is not only proving to be an incredible burden on the taxpayer, but there are many patients for whom a pill is not the best alternative."

He added: "We need to get more imaginative in solving these ­problems … it's clear from these figures that simply fobbing people off with a tablet is not working. If anything, it is making the problem worse.

"That's not to say that prescribing anti-depressants has no place in modern health care, of course it does.

"It's just that it is surely time for the Scottish Government to start listening to the experts and come up with a proper and sincere plan for how to turn these statistics around."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said prescribing was a clinical decision and there was good evidence GPs treat depression appropriately.

"But often prescribing involves not just drugs," she said. "While we ensure those who need medication continue to receive it, we are also committed to improving access to alternative therapies that increase choice and best accommodate patient preference.

"We have seen more people being prescribed antidepressants as a result of reduction in stigma attached to mental health. This sits alongside an 18 per cent drop in suicide rates in Scotland since 2000-2002."