Sleep Aids may be Tied to Next Morning Drowsy Driving, Accidents

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sleep_medications_safetySome common sleep aids can remain in the body until the next day, which many feel might be contributing to car crashes.

The issue has caught the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to The New York Times, following emerging evidence that, unsurprisingly, prescription sleep aids, like the popular Ambien, may have effects that last well into the next day. This raises the issue of how safely one can drive the day after taking a sleep aid.

The issue is not new news. In fact, consumer advocates have long said that there are links between sleep medications and vehicular crashes, the Times noted.

The agency’s actions are part of a larger effort to understand how to handle drivers who are operating motor vehicles while under the influence of prescription medications. Law enforcement officials have long grappled with this issue and how to prosecute drivers impaired due to prescription drugs, according to the Times.

A study conducted last year and published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology revealed that taking certain sleep aids; antidepressants, including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), and other psychotropic drugs can increase the likelihood that a driver will be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Paxil and Prozac taken prior to driving increased risks for accidents by more than 70 percent. Z-drugs—Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta—benzodiazepines for anxiety, and some antipsychotics were also involved in the study and all increased traffic accident risks by varying degrees. The data suggested significant dose effects for these drugs with higher dosing correlating to greater dangers for those who drove.

Meanwhile, according to the Times, a 2007 government study revealed that 5 percent of daytime drivers tested positive for either over-the-counter or prescription medications. Also, IMS Health, a research firm, found that nearly 60 million prescriptions for sleep aids were written in the United States in 2012, alone, the Times pointed out.

The FDA has said that it is looking at all insomnia medications currently on the market and is expected to ask drug makers to begin conducting broader driving tests for new sleep aids, according to the Times. The FDA said it would also be taking a closer look at any drug that leads to sleepiness. One issue, according to Ronald Farkas, clinical team leader for the FDA’s neurology products division, is that sometimes people don’t realize when a medication is causing impairment. “…It is still good advice that, if you feel impaired, don’t drive. But if you feel fine, you might be impaired,” he explained, the Times reported.

There are also issues with the ways in which different people metabolize drugs. Some feel the effects more than others. For instance, the Times pointed out that, in 2011, the FDA discovered that Intermezzo—a drug used to treat people who awaken in the middle of the night and which is given in one dose for men and a smaller dose for women—had different effects on men and woman with its effects remaining longer in women. The findings from the FDA’s and other research led to changes in the dosing for all zolpidem-containing medications—Intermezzo, Ambien, and over-the-counter sleep aides—so that dosing for women was half that for men, according to the Times.