By Martha Rosenberg
The Epoch Times
As the industrialized world increasingly relies on sleeping pills, new information suggests they may not be as safe as previously thought.
Drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata; older drugs like Valium and barbiturates; and even sedative antihistamines all correlate with a threefold increase in the hazard of death, say researchers in the Feb. 27, 2012, issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Some of the mortality stemmed from a “significant elevation of incident cancer,” say the researchers. Research subjects did not have pre-existing disease.
Sleeping pills have never been Big Pharma’s finest hour. In the 1960s, barbiturates were immortalized by Marilyn Monroe’s death and by the 1967 movie Valley of the Dolls.
In 1993, the sleeping pill Halcion was banned in the United Kingdom and other countries for causing amnesia, paranoia, depression, hallucinations, and violence in users. Travelers would find themselves on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and not remember boarding a plane.
In 2001, a similar pill, Dalmane, was said to “increase the risk of an injurious accident more than five times normal,” at an FDA/National Transportation Safety Board hearing.
There were more transportation risks. Who in the United States can forget former Rhode Island representative Patrick Kennedy driving to Capitol Hill in 2006 to “vote” at 2:45 a.m. while on Ambien and other drugs and crashing his car?
Law-enforcement officials reported that traffic accidents increased when Ambien became popular. Some drivers were not even aware that police officers were arresting them.
The FDA soon issued warnings about such apparent sleeping-pill blackouts for Ambien and 12 other sleeping pills—the potential for “complex sleep-related behaviors” that may include “sleep-driving, making phone calls, and preparing and eating food (while asleep).” Sanofi-Aventis, Ambien’s manufacturer, was forced to publish ads telling people that if they were going to take Ambien, to get in bed and stay there.
Of 4,336 people on Ambien in the BMJ study, there were 265 deaths compared with 295 deaths among 23,671 people not on Ambien.
Sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and Rozerem only decrease get-to-sleep time by 18 minutes, according to a major government study. Nonetheless, they have been a gold mine for Big Pharma since direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.
Everyone sleeps or watches TV when they can’t sleep. In FDA documents, Rozerem worked no better than a placebo, but its sales shot up 60 percent thanks to DTC advertising, reported the New York Times.
To grow the insomnia market, pharma has rolled out subcategories as it did with different kinds of depression. You could have chronic, acute, transient, initial, or delayed-onset insomnia.
You could also have middle-of-the-night, early-morning, or menopausal insomnia, or even non-restful sleep. But if further research confirms the BMJ findings, enduring the minutes before you fall asleep may be better for your heath than popping a pill.
You can always watch the TV commercials for sleeping pills.
Martha Rosenberg is a health reporter and author who lives in Chicago.