Drugs for treating depression increasing in Scotland

Doctors are prescribing more antidepressants in Scotland despite a Scottish Government target to cut the number of people taking the drugs.

Ministers had pledged to halt the rise in the use of mood- lifting pills such as Prozac by spring this year, and then drive down their popularity by 10%.

Instead figures published yesterday revealed that the quantity of antidepressants given to patients rose by 7% between March 2009 and April 2010.

Poor access to alternative treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy – which helps people learn to cope with their problems – was suggested by some as the reason for the failure.

Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatry, said: “The SNP Government promised to stabilise the prescription of antidepressants but they have failed to do so and numbers continue to rise.

“I know from my experience as a doctor that mental illness can be devastating for those who experience it. However, for all but severely affected patients, the daily use of drugs should be a last resort.”

The target to reduce anti-depressant prescribing has had its critics, with people pointing out it is the availability of alternatives that is important.

Yesterday the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) said: “What’s important is that people get the right treatment, quickly. Sometimes this will be antidepressants, but quick referrals should also be available for other types of treatment.

“SAMH believes that the Scottish Government is right to introduce a new waiting times target for psychological therapies and looks forward to its introduction later this year.”

However, the charity added that the Patients’ Rights Bill, which is currently going through Parliament and which will introduce a treatment time guarantee, will not cover most types of mental-health service.

They said: “SAMH thinks this is a missed opportunity and hopes the Scottish Government will reconsider”.

Jamie Stone, public health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said giving patients who were feeling low time in the GP surgery was also important.

He said: “We need to be confident that doctors have the time to explore alternatives to antidepressants before reaching for the prescription pad.

“We also need assurances that there are adequate mental health services in the community. GPs need to be confident that they can refer patients for specialised community support.”

Public Heath Minister Shona Robison said having the target had increased understanding of the issues behind anti-depressant prescribing in Scotland.

She also said GP and Scottish Health Survey data showed the prevalence of depression had increased during the last three years.

Details of anti-depressant use were given in a report on all NHS prescriptions. It revealed in 2009-10 the net ingredient cost to NHS Scotland for prescription drugs was £936 million, an increase of 3.3% on the previous financial year.

Herald Scotland

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