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Why ER visits are soaring from one popular sleeping pill

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Is your sleeping pill likely to send you to the ER?

If you suffer from insomnia, you may be taking a sleeping pill that is sending higher numbers of people to the emergency room. A new U.S.study found the popular prescription sleeping aid that contains the ingredient zolpidem resulted in a sharp increase in visits to the hospital since 2005.

Adverse events from Ambien up 220 percent

The report that comes from researchers from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found ER visits from zolpidem containing prescriptions increased from 6,000 in 2005 to more than 19,000 in 2010.

Drugs that contain zolpidem include Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar and Zolpimis.

Seventy five percent of the adverse events occurred in people age 45 or older, the report found. Females were especially likely to have a bad reaction to the sleeping pill. The analysis found a 274 percent increase in emergency room visits among women as the result of taking zolpidem.

The finding is important because the drug is popular. Escalating reports of adverse events prompted the FDA to recommend lowering the dose of the drug in January 2013.

Why the sleeping pill might be causing more problems

According to the report, millions of people take the sleeping aids without any problems, but combining sleeping pills with other drugs potentiates the effect.

In 2010, more than half of visits to the emergency room visits related to the prescription sleep medicine involved other drugs such as pain medicines and anti-anxiety medications.

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Drugs combined with zolpidem that could be dangerous included oxycodone and hydrocodone combinations, benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants and antipsychotics, according to the SAMSHA Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report.

Known side effects of zolpidem include sleepiness, dizziness, hallucinations, and agitation, sleep-walking and decreased mental alertness while driving.

“Although short-term sleeping medications can help patients, it is exceedingly important that they be carefully used and monitored,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a press release.

“Physicians and patients need to be aware of the potential adverse reactions associated with any medication, and work closely together to prevent or quickly address any problems that may arise.”

One of the goals of SAMSHA is monitoring prescription related adverse events to promote awareness of how to lower the chances of having a bad reaction.

Hyde said the finding highlights the importance of working with your doctor to identify and quickly address any problems that arise.

All medications have the potential to cause harm, even those that are sold over-the-counter. If you think your sleeping pill might be causing problems, talk with your doctor about a solution. Consumers should be aware that combining zolpidem with pain medications or anti-anxiety medications could be dangerous. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, schedule a review with your pharmacist for potential interactions.

There were 4,916,328 trips made to the emergency room as the result of taking the sleeping pill zolpidem, marketed primarily as Ambien, in 2010, the report found.