Sleep medications linked to sharp increase in ER visits - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Sleep medications linked to sharp increase in ER visits

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Ambien and other drugs used to treat insomnia help you sleep at night, but certain feelings can linger the day after.

"The drowsiness, hallucinations even, very sleepy, slower responses and reflexes the next morning can all be side effects of the medicine," said Dr. David Habenicht, an Emergency Room physician at St. David's South Medical Center. "We see many people that are altered and even people that take over doses. But many people cannot initially give us the history because they're either altered or unconscious. Many people are not truthful about what they take."

The active ingredient in sleeping aids like Ambien and Zolpimist is Zolpidem. A recent study from the substance abuse and mental health services administration shows the number of emergency room visits linked to the drug has risen almost 220 percent over the past few years.

"Maybe it corresponds with all our caffeine use," said Habenicht. "Somebody's trying to stay awake, somebody's trying to be asleep."

In a recent Austin accident, the driver of a truck crashed into a bicyclist, who was riding in the bike lane, with a helmet on. The victim is 33-year-old Austin firefighter, Colin Camp.

"Right now we're just working to get him back on this fire truck, working to get him better. Again, just as he remains in critical condition, our thought and prayers with him to get him back to where he needs to be," said Palmer Buck with the Austin Fire Department.

The driver, 60-year-old Stephen Murphy, told police he'd taken a sleep aid just a couple of hours before slamming into camp and his bike.

"It's concerning," Habenicht said. "Pain medications, which are opiates, combined with sleeping pills, combined with alcohol. Those are all bad combinations...Some of the non-narcotic pain medications when combined with other medications, can alter people."

In January, the FDA asked pharmaceutical companies to lower the dosage of their drugs for men and women.

Drug manufacturers say by following the directions, sleep aids work effectively, with minimal negative side effects. Typically, they're only prescribed for a short period of time.

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