A new study reports a significant link between the prescription sleep aid Ambien and an increased risk of car accidents, especially in male drivers over 80 years old and female drivers over 70.
Lead author John N. Booth III, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham says studies focusing on younger motorists demonstrated a similar correlation between car accidents and the use of Ambien, known generically as zolpidem.
Booth also added that the new findings substantiate previous data indicating older drivers- in particular females over age 80- have a considerably heightened risk of being in a collision while taking zolpidem. The conclusions were drawn based on information relevant to 2,000 current motorists age 70 or older residing in Alabama.
The motorists answered questions about their race, gender, marital status, retirement status, current occupation, or trade prior to retirement. They also answered questions concerning their driving habits, alcohol and tobacco use and any chronic medical issues they might have. Additionally, the participants brought bottles of any over-the-counter medications being taken to clinical visits for review by researchers.
Approximately 4 percent of the research subjects were using zolpidem. Among these individuals, there was a higher incidence of falls, chronic health issues, and medication use. This group, however, logged fewer miles behind the wheel annually than the rest of the participants.
When all factors were taken into consideration, the researchers determined that in general, car accident rates were the same for zolpidem users and non-users, based on police accident reports from the previous five years. However, when data for only female motorists was considered, the collision rate increased 61% among zolpidem users. Booth acknowledges that when men and women take the same rate of zolpidem, higher concentrations appear in the plasma of the women.
Among those drivers over 80 years of age, zolpidem use made them almost twice as likely to have been in an accident during the past five years.
Furthermore, Booth acknowledges that sleep problems, like car accidents, are a major health concern for aging adults, the risks of which should be considered on a broad level with the patient’s overall well-being.
A spokeswoman for the manufacturer of Ambien says the company takes the zolpidem reports under serious advisement and reminds patients to take the medication only as directed by their physician. She also reiterates the FDA-approved label stating that Ambien should only be taken if a patient can commit to 7-8 hours of sleep before resuming activity.
Booth also points out that other sedative hypnotic medications, including trazodone (Oleptro) and temazepam (Restoril) have been associated with increased risk of collision. A 2013 FDA recommendation advised doctors to prescribe these drugs at low doses to prevent high concentrations from remaining in the patient’s bloodstream after waking the next morning.
He suggests making older patients aware of the side effects and allowing themselves to be awake for longer periods of time before driving to minimize the blood level concentration.
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