Doctors told: Prescriptions aren't 'harmless'

Doctors can expect a flood of legal action by patients suffering withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants widely promoted as harmless, medical experts have warned.

Antidepressant prescriptions in England have increased by 94 per cent in 10 years to 43 million in 2010. The steepest increase has been in the newest type known as SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), propelled on to the market in the late 1980s with Prozac. SSRI prescriptions more than doubled to 23.1 million in 2010 as doctors became convinced they were safer and more effective.

However, several medico-legal experts have told The Independent that the failure to warn patients about potentially distressing withdrawal symptoms will result in clinical negligence claims against doctors in the UK.

Dr Adrian Rogers, a GP and medico-legal specialist, said: "GPs won't admit it, but patients are addicted to SSRIs, and can't easily come off them – those claims will start to come through soon enough."

Heather Ashton, a professor of clinical pharmacology, said: "That the dependence potential of benzodiazepines and SSRIs was overlooked by doctors casts shame on the medical profession which claims to be scientifically based. It is obvious that if one drug can replace another it must have common characteristics, and usually a common mode of action."

The promotion of drugs to treat various social and psychological ills has been a controversial but common practice for six decades. Yesterday, The Independent revealed the rise in legal cases being brought by patients hooked on tranquillisers such as Valium.

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