Study: Ambien results in more trips to the emergency room

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- It's a disturbing new trend, the number of emergency room visits linked to the active ingredient in sleeping pills is rising.

“Many physicians think of Ambien first because it works, however it does have side effects,” said Sleep Medicine specialist Dr. Lois Krahn. “Very few people want to be in a situation where they are out of control and not aware. The challenge with Ambien is it appears to cause amnesia.”

Adverse reactions to zolpidem -- the active ingredient in the sleep aids Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar and Zolpimist -- rose almost 220 percent between 2005 and 2010. That is from 6,000 in 2005 to 19,000 in 2010, according to researchers from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The study authors concluded that the use of these drugs for the short-term treatment of insomnia should be carefully monitored. Zolpidem, which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has been used safely and effectively by millions of Americans, but adverse reactions to the medication have increased. Most of these cases involved people aged 45 and older, the researchers said.

Dr. Lois Krahn evaluates and treats people with sleep disorders at the Mayo Clinic.

She says she wouldn’t call the study results to be a spike but believes physicians are better at identifying Ambien as the culprit for the emergency room trip.

“A person can be half awake and half asleep and have no awareness of what they are doing that's very scary,” said Dr. Krahn. “The person may not realize they are impaired they may feel awake but the medicine is still in their brain.”

This study found that to be especially true of women

“A woman's brain and body metabolizes Ambien differently,” said Dr. Krahn.

That explains why women accounted for 68 percent of all those Ambien related trips to the emergency room. It's also the reason why the FDA mandated prescription doses be altered.

“Before, we pretty often started someone with a 10 mg dose, but for women we now recommend they take half of that,” said Dr. Krahn. “For the right person it could be the right medication, but there are other options too and we should consider those too before too quickly going to Ambien.”

Possible adverse reactions from medications containing zolpidem include:

    daytime drowsiness
    drowsiness while driving

Click here for more information on the Mayo Clinic Sleep Center and solutions for insomnia.