(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)
Petition P-05-784: “Prescription drug dependence and withdrawal”
Submitted by Stevie Lewis
A summary of the Petitions Committee report is available here.
Petition Supporting Evidence
- A number of prescription drug categories, in particular anti-depressants and opioids, can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
- 10% of the Welsh population are using anti-depressants and 80-90% of them have been prescribed them for a year or more.
- Prescribing guidelines were inadequate as they don’t take into account the depth and length of possible withdrawal symptoms.
It’s important patients have access to the right information and support
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) said withdrawal symptoms relating to prescription drugs can be very severe and some patients can become dependent on the – the petitioner herself became dependent on SSRI anti-depressants and it took 17 years for her to stop taking them.
“….these medications can have a positive impact for many people who are prescribed them. The committee is not suggesting that all prescribing of these medications is problematic – far from it. Rather, it is vitally important that patients have access to the right information and support, certainly at the beginning of their treatment, and also when they want to reduce or stop taking this medication.”
– Chair of the Petitions Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders AM
She welcomed the fact the Welsh Government has formally recognised that anti-depressants do come with withdrawal symptoms and that services relating to prescription drug addiction and withdrawal shouldn’t fall under general substance abuse programmes.
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said a family member had themselves become addicted on a prescription drug and getting them through the withdrawal period was “horrible”; that was back in the early 1980s yet the problems still persist. It was important to create a culture of honesty around anti-depressants as it’s not a case of them never being used, but being used carefully.
Anti-depressants “can be a safe and effective treatment”
While the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), agreed or agreed in principle to many of the Committee’s recommendations, there was one key area where he disagreed – namely reducing the prescription of anti-depressants.
“Depression is a common, recurrent and, in some cases, debilitating illness. For many people with depression, prescribing an anti-depressant will be a safe and effective treatment option. We believe that a national prescribing indicator that intends to reduce prescribing could have the unintended consequence of discouraging the appropriate use of anti-depressant medication and result in some patients not starting treatment and others stopping prematurely.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething
He believes safe tapering/weaning off of anti-depressants was more appropriate. He will also encourage health boards and GP clusters to work more closely with pharmacists and follow their advice, while consideration will be given to providing the drug advice service (DAN 24/7) staff with additional training on prescription drug addiction.