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Popular Sleeping Pill Linked to Accidents and Violence
November 30, 2012
Many first heard of the sleeping pill, Ambien, in 2006 when former Rhode Island representative Patrick Kennedy drove to Capitol Hill under its influence to “vote” at 2:45 a.m., crashing his car. He had also been taking Phenergan, a gastroenteritis drug that can cause drowsiness, said published reports.
By 2007, such blackouts were becoming so common, the FDA issued warnings about the potential of “complex sleep-related behaviors” with Ambien and 12 other sleeping pills that included “sleep-driving, making phone calls and preparing and eating food (while asleep).” Meanwhile, law enforcement officials reported traffic accidents increasing under Ambien's popularity with some drivers not even recognizing police officers there to arrest them.
Then, horror stories began to circulate about Ambien-related blackout eating. Skinny dieters were waking up horrified amid mountains of pizza, Krispy Kreme donuts and Häagen-Dazs cartons consumed by their "evil twin" when they took Ambien. Blackout eating received such buzz in the media, Sanoﬁ-Aventis, Ambien’s manufacturer, was forced to publish full page newspaper ads telling people if they were going to take Ambien, to get in bed and stay there.
In 2009, Ambien was again in the news when Tiger Woods reportedly used it to spice up sex with his string of consorts which led to his separation from Elin Nordegren Woods. And last summer, a generic version of Ambien was found in the bloodstream of Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and former wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo when she swerved into a tractor-trailer and kept driving. Witnesses said she was had been weaving for miles. Kennedy told police when she was stopped that she may have confused the Ambien with her daily thyroid med but at her court appearance she blamed a "partial seizure."
In November, the Mayo clinic in Minnesota announced it will no longer prescribe Ambien to inpatients because of its high correlation with falls. Data on more than 16,000 hospitalized patients found that the fall rate on Ambien was more than four times that of those not on the sleeping pill. Ambien was correlated with more falls than factors like age, mental impairment, delirium or insomnia, write authors in the Nov. 19 issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine, reported Newsday.
And there are other concerns with Ambien. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders recently reported Ambien-associated homicides. "This Brief Report presents 2 cases in which concomitant zolpidem [Ambien] and paroxetine [Paxil] use was associated with uncharacteristic, complex acts of violence for which the individuals in question claimed total or partial amnesia. Neither individual had a history of aggressive behavior before killing his or her spouse; both most likely took more than 5 mg of zolpidem on the nights of their offenses."
Sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem have been a cash cow for the drug industry but many say they are over-hyped. Rozerem performed no better than placebo according to FDA documents but sales increased by 60 percent from TV advertising reported the New York Times. And ads for Ambien in India, where it is sold under the name Zolfresh, actually claim the pill makes people live longer, according to published reports.
Still aggressive marketing of sleeping pills will no doubt continue because of the enviable demographics: everyone sleeps--or watches TV when they can’t.
Martha Rosenberg's, Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, about food and drug marketing, is now available in bookstores, libraries and online.
Follow Martha on Twitter: @marthrosenberg