ANTIDEPRESSANTS are making thousands of Scots ill with side-effects and withdrawal symptoms, the doctors’ association has warned.

The British Medical Association (BMA) insists patients are suffering withdrawals from drugs that have been wrongly prescribed, but say the true scale and extent of the problem is unknown.

A petition has been lodged calling on the Scottish Parliament to provide a 24-hour helpline for those affected, as the UK Government has failed to act on recommendations.

In a response to the Petitions Committee which is considering the issue, the BMA said: “When certain psychoactive drugs are inappropriately prescribed there is potential for patients to become dependent or suffer withdrawal symptoms, leading to a range of health and social harms.”

However there is no robust data on the problem, but the BMA claims that evidence from charities and support groups “shows that it is substantial”.

An expert group established to examine the problem issued a series of recommendations last year including ensuring there are specialist services in the community, better training for healthcare professionals to prescribe drugs more safely and treatments for those dependent on anti-depressants, including “tapering” of doses to help wean patients come off them.

The UK Government has so far failed to establish a helpline and the petition calls on the Scottish Government to act on the recommendations of the expert group.

The petition’s author, psychotherapist Marion Brown, says she has seen the damage antidepressants can do to some patients.

“The medical profession believes antidepressants are safe and effective, but in many cases they are making people ill,” she says.

“If you try and come off the drugs and suffer withdrawals, doctors often say that is the symptoms of their depression coming back. It is self-perpetuating. But people don’t want to talk about this.

“Politicians say these are clinical decisions but I think GPs are in an impossible position. They are the fall guys in all this.”

Ms Brown is co-founder of a support group Recovery and Renewal, which argues that resources are devoted to helping people dependent on illegal drugs, while none are provided for those suffering as a result of prescribed medication.

“If the UK Government will not fund a helpline the Scottish Government should, they claim.”

But Health Secretary Shona Robison says that while the problem is an “important health issue” the Scottish Government will not fund services because it would have to cut support for users of illicit drugs in order to do so. The Scottish Government’s official response to the petition says: “We would recommend if a patient is having problems with their prescribed medication they should in the first instance go to the prescriber, or their GP for help.”

Fiona French, from Aberdeen, blames her serious health problems on four decades spent on prescribed drugs including antidepressants and benzodiazepines.

However, she says she has had huge difficulty getting doctors to recognise her symptoms, partly as a result of the prescribed drugs.

“Apart from having my life and my health destroyed, I have had to fight to get an admission that coming off the drugs was part of the problem,” she said. “Even now my doctor has only told me withdrawal is ‘the most likely explanation’.

“When you ask for help, you are most likely to be directed to substance misuse services targeted at illicit drug users. There really is nowhere for us to go.”

“Shona Robison says we should go to our doctor if there are problems, but nobody will discuss the toxic effects of these drugs.”

“I have a very poor quality of life with cognitive problems, I can’t read any more and physically I can’t go out more than two or three times a week.

“It annoys me slightly that services provided for drug addicts but not for the millions of patients dependent on prescribed drugs.”