CAMPAIGNERS will this week issue a heartfelt plea to MSPs to make Scotland a trailblazer in the fight against prescription pill harm.

Patients have revealed shocking accounts of being crippled and traumatised by withdrawal from mood-altering drugs as part of a petition calling for recognition of and dedicated support for people suffering pharmaceutical dependence.

Case Study: 'The pain in my skull is excruciating'

It is due to be considered at Holyrood on Thursday and has won backing from mental health charities, psychiatrists, the BMA and MPs on Westminster's All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence, who warned that medics are too often "unaware of the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms" and issue patients with "inappropriate new diagnoses instead".

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Scottish mental health charity, SAMH, said its own research indicated that "around half of GPs" were unfamiliar with guidance that patients with mild to moderate depression should initially be offered therapy, self-help or physical activity instead of antidepressants.

One patient from Fife who was prescribed Diazepam for three months to treat panic attacks said she had developed feelings of terror and "burning skin, internal vibrations and feelings of extreme electrical shock throughout my body" despite tapering the dose slowly over 10 months.

She added: "Addiction services I've been referred to are of no help as they specialise in drug misuse and not prescription drug dependence."

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Another woman told how withdrawal from antidepressants left her with "terrible panic and inner turmoil on a scale I had never encountered before", eventually leading to a suicide attempt.

It comes as a record number of Scots are being prescribed antidepressants and antipsychotics. Recent research by the University of Roehampton estimated that, while some patients do benefit, there were more than 770,000 patients taking antidepressants unnecessarily in England alone.

Dr Des Spence, a Maryhill GP who has called for a public inquiry into pharmaceutical addiction describes it as "a disgrace, a scandal, and the biggest public health issue of our time".

He said patients were dying from unintentional overdoses and that he encountered patients "all the time" harmed by prescription drugs.

He said: "From a public health perspective, it's really under the radar. It's a real burning issue. It's affecting a lot of communities right across Scotland, right across the Central Belt."

He said there was "very limited long-term data on antidepressant use" despite patients being prescribed high doses for decades amid assurances it would be safe.

He added that the profession exacerbated the problem by being overly defensive. "There's a lack of recognition, a lack of acceptance, about the problems these drugs have created," he said.

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Half of all suicides in Scotland between 2009 and 2015 involved individuals prescribed antidepressants in the 12 months to their death.

While some will have been depressed, many patients are prescribed the pills for other conditions - such as anxiety - and clinical trials have long highlighted that the risk of suicide spikes as patients undergo withdrawal.

Marion Brown, a psychotherapist from Helensburgh who brought the petition, said doctors "simply do not believe what patients are experiencing", yet patients are repeatedly told to go back to their GP.

She said: "Patients come to be seen as ‘difficult’, ‘heart-sink’, ‘complex’ patients, coming back complaining of multiple apparently unrelated symptoms and, in due course, become categorised as displaying ‘medically unexplained symptoms'."

She added that the number of patients being labelled with MUS was growing in primary care.

Ann Kelly, the patient whose own ordeal with antidepressants inspired Mrs Brown to pursue the campaign, said her GP had encouraged her to try alleviating symptoms with anti-seizure medication, painkillers, acceptance therapy or a "combination of all three".

She added: "All of which are nothing more than an attempt to cover up neurological damage from antidepressants. Why this is acceptable? I believe this to be one of the biggest scandals in modern medicine."