6 For Your Health

Sleeping Pill Dangers

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Updated: 1/01/2013 7:20 pm

In today's 6 For Your Health headlines... it's estimated that Americans will fill about 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills like Ambien in 2013.

One study shows... even occasional use of sleeping pills can increase your chances of getting in a car crash.

Monica Robins finds out first-hand when it's safe to drive.

Ambien - and it's generic form Zolpidem are among the most commonly prescribed sleeping aids.

The drug can stay in your system up to 12 hours.

Most side effects are minor.

But a less common side effect known as Complex Sleep Related Behaviors are cause for concern:

Dr. Jessica Vensal Rundo - Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center: "That's the sleep driving, the eating without awareness -- and the sleep walking."

Kerry Kennedy - Ambien user: "I remember getting on the highway, and then I have no memory."

Kerry Kennedy took Ambien and side-swiped a truck.

It was also in the system of her cousin, former congressman Patrick Kennedy when he crashed into a concrete barrier in 2006.

In Texas, a woman who mixed Ambien and alcohol had no memory of running over two young girls and their mother.

A southern Illinois man took 4 Ambien, just 12 hours before he drove into a highway construction crew, killing one man and injuring 3 others.

Dr. Deborah McAvoy - researcher: "It's actually just as bad as drinking and driving."

Researchers at Ohio University use a driving simulator to study and help improve road safety.

They also study the effects of drowsy driving.

Dr. Deborah McAvoy: "This information is valuable simply because we are trying to reduce crashes and improve safety."

We traveled to O.U. recently, where Dr. Deborah McAvoy and a team of graduate research assistants created a program to test the driving skills of someone under the influence of Ambien... that someone was me:

First - I went through a few trials to get used to the Ford Focus. Cameras track my eye movement - and the computer records my speed, and how well I stay in my lane.

I easily pass a field sobriety test -- and now I'm ready to take my pill.

Monica Robins - reporting: "I am taking approximately 5 mg."

The drug's directions are clear:

Go to bed for at least 7 to 8 hours.

Do not drive until fully away.

Ambien is designed to act quickly - and it does:

Monica Robins: "5 minutes and I am starting to feel dizzy."

At 11:45 -- I'm up, but definitely unsteady.

We repeat the same process - One hour after taking the Ambien.
I'm clearly disoriented.

"Do it again, out loud."

Back in the car, I don't realize I'm speeding, until the simulator tells me, not once:

"Slow down."

But twice!

Monica Robins: "I was doing 80 in a 30?"

Nick Brady - research assistant: "The two things I noticed were speed variance and the ability for her to stay in her lane. As the day progressed we saw those skills started to deteriorate."

Drowsy drivers have trouble perceiving how quickly they are coming up on another vehicle - and this is a leading cause of crashes.

Sobering news for me, but I wasn't done.

3 hours after taking an Ambien... a winter driving scenario.

Listen to what Nick tells me right before I start:

"Speed limit here is 55."

I begin driving but within 30 seconds:

"Ohhhh!"

I've lost control and slammed - at high speed into a concrete barrier.

Remember - Nick told me the speed limit before I started. One minute later, I have no memory of our conversation:

Monica Robins: "I don't remember seeing a speed limit."

"This is a very serious crash, you went into the concrete barrier. You are probably not walking away from this crash."

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