A KEY Scottish Parliament committee is to ask the country’s GPs for their views on the harm caused by prescribed drug medication in response to a petition by a Helensburgh resident.

Marion Brown’s call for action on prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal was considered by Holyrood’s public petitions committee last week.

And one member of the committee claimed, in the course of that meeting, that experts who claim there is no problem surrounding the long-term use of prescription drugs are “in denial” on the issue.

Michelle Ballantyne, a Conservative MSP for the south of Scotland region, said she found evidence provided by mental health minister Maureen Watt and Dr John Mitchell, the Scottish Government’s psychiatrist adviser, at a session on the issue in January, to be “very troubling”.

Ms Ballantyne told the committee: “I felt that there was an element of saying, ‘oh, there is not really a problem here’ in our evidence session, but there clearly is a problem, and anybody who thinks otherwise is really in denial.”

More than 120 members of the public have sent comments to the Scottish Parliament in response to Ms Brown’s petition – which committee convener Johann Lamont said was “possibly the largest number of written submissions for any petition”.

Ms Brown, meanwhile, said she was heartened by the views expressed at last week’s committee meeting – but warned that “watching and waiting” for the views of the medical profession was not an option.

Earlier this year Ms Brown told the Advertiser she felt as if the Scottish Government was “shutting the door in the faces” of people who had expressed concern at the effects of long-term use of certain medication – in particular anti-depressants, painkillers and benzodiazepines, which are commonly used as sleeping pills – and the lack of support for people attempting to come off prescribed drugs.

Following last Thursday’s meeting Ms Brown said: “I felt so much better than after the evidence session in January.

“The very fact that they acknowledged there is a big problem was such a relief. It makes such a difference to feel as if we are being believed.”

But Ms Brown warned that some GPs might feel reluctant to voice their views on the issue without their thoughts being kept anonymous.

“I’ve made the suggestion to the committee that GPs’ views could be anonymous,” she added.

“Unfortunately I think a number of GPs who are still in practice fear being disciplined or silenced.”

Ms Brown said that while she welcomed the decision to seek the views of health professionals and the Scottish Government, she did not want to let the issue lie until those opinions are received.

“We can’t just watch and wait,” she said. “Every day people are being started on prescription medication. It could be after the summer by the time the committee considers the matter again, and how many people will be harmed by then?

“There is now masses of real evidence, through the public’s submissions to the committee, about what is happening to people, and we have to do as much as we can to keep the public aware of the issue.”

Ms Lamont told members of the committee at Holyrood last Thursday: “We thank all those who have taken the time to make those submissions.“We are not in a position to investigate or intervene in individual cases. However, it would be inappropriate not to recognise that there are in excess of a hundred individual cases behind the submissions.

“So, although we cannot look at individual cases, we can do something to signpost people to the places where they might find support.”

Graeme Dey, who represents Angus South for the SNP, said: “I am particularly interested in getting the views of general practitioners in Scotland.

“They are prescribing these drugs and they should be seeing any negative impact they are having in the longer term.

“It is really important to get an understanding of what they are encountering in their surgeries the length and breadth of Scotland.”

Rona Mackay, the SNP MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, said: “They [GPs] are in the front line and are prescribing and then seeing the effects, so it is important to get some feedback from them.

“It is also important to ask the BMA for its current position on the proposal for a national 24-hour helpline, and to ask the Government what engagement it has had with England on the issue.

“It is not just happening in Scotland; it is all over.”

The committee agreed to ask the Scottish Government how it is liaising with Public Health England, which announced a year-long review into the issue in January, and to speak to the British Medical Association about the issue of a helpline for people affected by withdrawal from long-term use of prescription medication.

Ms Lamont added: “We will try to get the views of GPs in Scotland about their sense of this as an issue and maybe some reflection on how it can be addressed.”

Ms Brown’s petition has been backed by psychiatrists, mental health charities, 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”.