ER Visits Soar for Sleeping Pill Users

An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Millions of them who have trouble falling asleep and need a little help – or think they do – from prescription sleeping pills may, in fact, be putting their lives in jeopardy.

A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found a sharp increase in emergency room visits by patients taking zolpidem, the popular sleeping pill sold under the brand name Ambien.

Zolpidem is an FDA-approved drug for the short-term treatment of insomnia and is the active ingredient in Ambien, as well as Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist.

The SAMHSA study, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Report, showed an increase of nearly 220 percent in zolpidem-related emergency room visits, from 6,111 visits in 2005 to 19,487 visits in 2010.

Two-thirds (68 percent) of the zolpidem-related adverse reaction visits to hospital emergency rooms in 2010 were females. About three-quarters (74 percent) of hospital emergency room visits for zolpidem-related adverse reactions were people aged 45 or older and about one-third (32 percent) were 65 or older.

Half of the visits (50 percent) also involved other pharmaceuticals combined with zolpidem, including narcotic painkillers (26 percent), and other anti-anxiety and medications for insomnia (16 percent).

Potential Adverse Reactions to Ambien

Among the numerous adverse reactions that have occurred with patients taking Ambien, several are very dangerous. Beside daytime drowsiness and dizziness, these include hallucinations, behavioral changes – such as agitation and bizarre behavior, and so-called complex behaviors – such as sleepwalking and sleep driving, or driving while not fully awake.

Combining Ambien with alcohol or other drugs that depress the central nervous system, such as anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) or narcotic painkillers, can increase the sedative effects of the sleeping pill.

Historically, the FDA has recommended that prescriptions for medications containing zolpidem be reduced by half for elderly individuals. But studies have found that despite this FDA recommendation, the elderly are often prescribed a higher dose, which may increase adverse reactions.

In January of this year, the FDA took the additional step of requiring that drug manufacturers lower the recommended doses of medications containing zolpidem by half for females. It also recommended, but did not require, the same reduction in doses for males.

Another Study on Sleeping Pill Risks

The results of a new study published in BMJ Open shows that people who take 18 sleeping pills a year have a risk of dying that is 3.5 times higher than people who don’t take sleeping pills. The sleeping medication in that study was temazepam, sold under the brand name Restoril.

So, sleeping medications, even those taken as prescribed by your doctor, aren’t as safe as you might think.

Posted on May 26th, 2013

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