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America’s most popular prescription sleep medication linked to mass shootings

   Published time: January 20, 2014 22:05

A new report describing the bizarre and dangerous side effects of the sleep aid Ambien has once again raised questions about one of the United States’ most popular prescription drugs.

In a story by the Fix, Allison McCabe chronicled the numerous  cases in which Ambien has caused individuals to commit unsafe,  and sometimes deadly acts.

In 2009, 45-year-old Robert Stewart was convicted on eight  charges of second-degree murder after he killed eight people in a  nursing home. He was originally charged with first-degree murder,  but by claiming his tirade was Ambien-induced he was able to have  the charges lessened and sentenced to 142-179 years in prison.

In a similar case, Thomas Chester Page of South Carolina was  sentenced on five counts of attempted murder despite his claims  that Ambien was the cause of a shootout with officers. He  received 30 years of prison on each count, to be served  concurrently.

Although the Food and Drug Administration approved Ambien in  1992, its warning labels have changed significantly over the last  two decades as evidence mounted documenting the drug’s ability to  induce dangerous behavior.

“After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not  being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are  doing,” the label currently reads. “The next morning,  you may not remember that you did anything during the  night…Reported activities include: driving a car  (“sleep-driving”), making and eating food, talking on the phone,  having sex, sleep-walking.”

In the courtroom, cases related to Ambien use have ranged from  shootings to child molestation charges to car accidents. In one  such case, flight attendant Julie Ann Bronson from Texas ran over  three people – including an 18-month old who suffered from brain  damage as a result. When Bronson woke up in jail the next  morning, she could barely comprehend what she had done.

“It was surreal. It was like a bad dream,” she said in  May 2012. “I did the crime but I never intended to do it. I  wouldn’t hurt a flea. And if I would have hit somebody, I would  have stopped and helped. We’re trained in CPR.” Bronson  pleaded guilty to the felony charges, but also received lesser  charges by citing Ambien as the reason for her actions.

While some drug companies work on sleep aids that do not induce  the kind of unpredictable and risky behavior Ambien does, the  popularity of the medication raises concern over America’s  prescription drug culture. The market for sleeping pills is a  billion-dollar industry, yet dangerous side effects continue to  be reported.

Last year, a report by the Department of Health and Human  Services highlighted about 2,200 doctors for suspicious  activities such as over-prescribing drugs. More than 700 Medicare  doctors were also flagged for issuing what could be seen as   “extreme” and potentially harmful prescriptions.

Although the report noted that some prescriptions could have been  effective, it added, “prescribing high amounts on any of  these measures may indicate that a physician is prescribing drugs  which are not medically necessary or that he or she has an  inappropriate incentive, such as a kickback, to order certain  drugs.”

Soon after that report was issued, the Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention found that roughly 18 women a day are dying in the  United States due to prescription drug overdose, namely from  painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. With women making up 40  percent of all overdose deaths in 2010, these numbers marked a  400 percent increase compared to data from 1999.

The benefits of medication have also been placed under heavy  scrutiny when it comes to other health issues, such as attention  deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In December 2013, RT   reported that the authors of the primary study  promoting medication over behavioral therapy in order to treat  ADHD now have serious concerns over their original results.

“I hope it didn’t do irreparable damage,” said one of  the stud’s co-authors, Dr. Lilly Hechtman of Montreal’s McGill  University. “The people who pay the price in the end is the  kids. That’s the biggest tragedy in all of this.”

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