“Sleep-driving” while under the influence of Ambien has captured wide attention and continues to be an alarming problem. Ambien (zolpidem) is one of the new “Z” drugs used as sleeping pills that are popular in commercials and doctors’ sample cupboards. But alternatives exist (most obviously the other Z’s – zopiclone/Lunesta, and zalepron/Sonata).
There have been newspaper reports of individuals arrested while sleep-driving, people who took Ambien at bedtime and didn’t even wake up during the arrest process. Like Devin Dove, who remained asleep until he woke up in a hospital bed and was handed a ticket for DUI by a nurse. The previous night he’d had no alcohol, no drugs – only his prescribed Ambien – and no recollection at all of driving or leaving his bed. Just waking in the hospital. He is concerned about others avoiding similar situations and the legal troubles that can follow.
Dove is expressing his feelings with Ambien Outrage, a web site that gathers stories from other victims, shares resources, and is intended to form a community. He’s putting out a call to all who’ve experienced sleep-driving, sleep-eating or more, to contact him and share your stories.
Although he is upset about his own case, what outrages Dove the most is that the FDA approved the drug and keeps it on the market after so many reports of sleep-eating, sleep-driving, sleep-arson, etc. in an automatic semiconscious state. In the legal system, somnambulism is a tricky legal point. The defendant can’t be held responsible since he had no plan, no motive and no memory of the crime. But in states across America, Ambien sleep-driving-related DUI tickets rack up. The Drug Law Blog is a good source to keep current with news.
Ambien can also cause hallucinations and a long list of other potential side effects. There are not enough of these cases to be statistically significant, which means it’s an acceptable risk in the view of the FDA. But while no sedative is without risk, Ambien seems to have more frequent and unusual risks, like sleep-driving.
The other two Z drugs (Lunesta and Sonata) work just fine without all the dramatic somatic symptoms of zolpidem (though of course they have side effects too). It’s a matter of asking your doctor to think about another prescription choice, and that starts with you being an informed consumer.
Insomnia is best treated with good sleep hygiene, optimal lighting, music, techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, and keeping to routine. Sedatives for sleep are dangerous to use for extended periods, and they’re intended for short-term, as-needed use.
Read more: An interesting legal opinion on somnambulism and the law.