More than half of patients coming off antidepressants 'suffer withdrawal symptoms'

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Across Wales our reliance on painkillers, prescribed sleeping pills, and antidepressants is growing - with one-in-nine people in some areas taking pills for depression and anxiety.

A new report for MPs claims that more than half of patients coming off antidepressants suffer withdrawal symptoms.

They work for many but for others, as Wales This Week reveals, create a spiral of dependence which can ruin lives.

Jim Morrison, 49, from the Vale of Glamorgan, was prescribed a sedative known as a benzodiazepine after he had an accident when he was a teenager.

Benzodiazepines - or benzos - have been widely used in the UK since the 1960s for anxiety and sleeping problems, although the Welsh Government says their usage in Wales has been in decline since 2002.

The DrugWise charity estimates that around 40 per cent of people taking them for more than six weeks will become addicted.

Jim Morrison has now been on benzodiazepines for thirty-five years. When he tried to come off the tablets a few years ago he went through such pain and weight loss that his current GP - who has worked hard to support Jim - thought he might have cancer.

Jim Morrison has been on benzodiazepines since he was a teenager. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Stevie Lewis is so concerned about a lack of support for people with a dependency on prescription medication that she has lodged a petition with the Welsh Assembly government.

Stevie Lewis said she went through “waves of terror” as she tried to withdraw from an SSRI antidepressant. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

In Cardiff, a new charity is hoping to support people like Jim and Stevie. The Prescription Awareness & Support Team (PAST) was inspired by the experience a woman who could find no organisation to support her withdrawal from an opioid painkiller and went through withdrawal alone.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority says it is currently considering whether warnings on opioid medicines should be clearer about the risks of dependence and addiction.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry says its manufacturers are highly regulated and follow strict legal rules. It says anyone concerned about their medication should consult their GP.

Last week the Welsh Government announced £1.3 million for new schemes specifically targeting reliance on prescription medication in five areas of Wales.

It told Wales This week that SSRI antidepressants help a large number of people and there are clear guidelines from the health watchdog NICE as to how they should be prescribed.

It says an independent advisory panel is currently examining issues with certain painkillers in Wales in order to “improve safe, effective and appropriate use”.

  • Where to go if you need support:

The Welsh Government says there is help and support available through DAN247, a free and bilingual telephone drugs helpline providing a single point of contact for anyone in Wales wanting further information or help relating to drugs (including prescription drugs) or alcohol. The freephone number is 0808 808 2234.

The Prescription Awareness Support Team, which features in the programme, can be contacted via its website.

North Wales NHS Trust offers a Prescribed Medication Support Service in Mold. Call 07802 653493 for details.

The mental health charity, Mind, operates an infoline for information on types of mental health problems. The number is 0300 123 3393.

  • Wales This Week: Hooked on Pills, tonight at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales