May 8, 2006
Police call them "Ambien Drivers"--people who take Ambien to sleep at night and then suddenly wake up behind the wheel of a car. Congressman Patrick Kennedy blames Ambien, the most popular sleep drug in the country, for his car accident on Capital Hill. But Kennedy isn't the only one; police said this pill is causing tons of people to sleepwalk their way right into jail.
A man was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol. Police said he was drunk, the man said he was asleep.
"Sometimes what we see is what may appear to be an intoxicated driver is in fact a sleepy driver," said Tim Longo, Chief of Charlottesville Police Department.
The man, who does not want to be identified, said he took a popular prescription sleeping pill called Ambien the night he was arrested and he doesn't remember getting behind the wheel.
"I went to bed, I was reading, the next thing I know there is a policeman at my car door," the man said.
Unbelievable? Well some doctors said, believe it. There are documented cases of this happening to people with no prior history of sleepwalking.
"Ambien does increase the percent of slow wave sleep, which is the stage of sleep that promotes sleepwalking," said Dr. Carlos Schenck, a sleep disorder physician.
The drug maker said Ambien's thirteen year record in the U.S. shows it's safe if is used as directed, although they are aware of reports of people driving while sleepwalking, and those have been sent to the FDA.
A physician who prescribes Ambien believes some of these sleep driving episodes can be stopped if the drug is taken correctly.
"If you wake up at 5 a.m. and can't go to sleep and so you take one of these pills, it's going to be in your body for six hours or so and your going to be sleepy while driving," said Dr. Paul Suratt, a UVa Sleep Disorder Director.
Even the drug maker warns the pills are supposed to be taken before you go to bed in the evening, not taken in the middle of the night.
Police hope people will start listening to the warning before it's too late. "You may be putting yourself or others at risk when you get behind the wheel of an automobile," said Longo.
Although the man is appealing his DUI conviction, he said he's lucky no one got hurt that night.
Doctors say it is difficult to say for sure whether a particular incidence of sleepwalking is drug induced, or a result of underlying disorders. The FDA is looking into putting a stronger warning label on Ambien.