Harvard Men's Health Watch

Emergency room visits involving popular sleep drug rise sharply

Emergency room visits related to the commonly prescribed sleep drug zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Zolpimist) have increased sharply, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The number of ER visits by men related to adverse reactions to zolpidem rose 144%, from 2,584 in 2005 to 6,306 in 2010.

Zolpidem is prescribed for short-term relief of sleeplessness. The drug can have lingering effects the next day, increasing the risk of accidents. The FDA recently moved to require zolpidem manufacturers to cut the recommended dose for women in half. The agency recommended the same change for men, though it is not legally required.

Sleep aids should be used at the lowest effective dose to prevent a hangover of drowsiness the next day that could cause accidents or falls—especially in older people, who don't clear medications from their systems as quickly as younger people do. SAMHSA reported that 32% of ER visits linked to zolpidem were by people 65 and older. These drugs should not be mixed with other sedating medications, which can enhance the groggy hangover effect.

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