The results of a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show a notably sharp increase in emergency hospital visits stemming from the use of zolpidem, an oft-prescribed medication for patients suffering from insomnia.
Zolpidem is the active ingredient in a number of widely used sleep medications including Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar and Zolpimist. According to the recent report on this medication, the number of emergency room visits that involve adverse reactions to the substance rose an alarming 220 percent between 2005 and 2010. Females, more so than males, represented a significant percentage of the makeup of these patients.
Between 2005 and 2010 SAMHSA reported a 274 percent increase in zolpidem-related ER visits for females compared to a 144 percent increase in male patients during the same time period. In hard numbers, 3,527 females were admitted to hospitals across the country for adverse effects to the medication in 2005 compared to 13,130 in 2010. In terms of male patients suffering these negative side effects the numbers rose from 2,584 in 2005 to 6,306 in 2010.
The report shows that more than two-thirds of the ER visits in 2010 were female patients and that approximately three-fourths of the overall ER visits in 2010 related to this medication were in patients aged 45 and older.
Among the adverse effects reported are daytime drowsiness, dizziness, hallucinations, agitation, sleep-walking and drowsiness while driving. When used in conjunction with other drugs such as anti-anxiety medications and narcotic pain medications, the side effects are markedly increased. According to the SAMHSA study, half of the patients admitted to emergency rooms for zolpidem-related complications in 2010 had used the medication in conjunction with other drugs.
Zolpidem is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for short-term use by patients suffering from insomnia and has been on the market for at least 20 years. However, earlier this year the FDA responded to the sharp increase in adverse side effects and required the drug's manufacturers to cut the recommended dosage for female users in half. The Administration also suggested a decrease in dosage for male users.
"Although short-term sleeping medications can help patients, it is exceedingly important that they be carefully used and monitored," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde. "Physicians and patients need to be aware of the potential adverse reactions associated with any medication, and work closely together to prevent or quickly address any problems that may arise."