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March 14, 2007


FDA backs Patrick Kennedy: sleeping pills can make you sleep-drive

Patrick Kennedy after car crash

The FDA announced today that all prescription sleeping pills can, in rare instances, cause those who take them to engage in "complex sleep-related behaviors" including driving. This supports Patrick Kennedy, who crashed his car in Washington, DC last spring after taking Ambien, Phenergan (not a sleeping pill), and, according to the staff at Capital Hill bar the Hawk & Dove, maybe a few drinks.

Only about a dozen reports of sleep-driving while on insomnia medication have made it to the FDA, but they think it's happening a lot more, which is probably true. Other sleep activity that these pills can cause include less dangerous but significantly more bizarre activities, like making phone calls, fixing and eating food, and having sex while still asleep (I'd bet these kinds of things happen a lot more often than sleep-driving, but there is no way people are going to tell their doctor about it.) Drug manufacturers will now have to put warnings of potential dangerous side effects on these "sedative-hypnotics".

So even though you're not supposed to drink while taking Ambien, it sounds like Kennedy was telling the truth when he said that he had no memory of driving or crashing his car that night. His claim to the police at the scene of the accident that he was "headed to the Capital to make a vote" at 3:00 AM is weird enough to make me believe that he was having some episode of sleepwalking, and wasn't just really drunk and incoherent as many people assumed.

He was also prescribed both of those drugs, though maybe now doctors will be more careful about recommending mixing two drugs that both act as sedatives.

Given this new FDA statement, it may not have been appropriate for Kennedy to plead guilty to driving under the influence of drugs that he was prescribed, or to have gotten a year's probation. This incident did also prompt him to go to rehab for a month for a supposed addiction to pain medication (who knows how/if that figures into the car crash), and he has an admittedly long history of addiction problems, but the car crash itself doesn't look like a crime.

Related: NYT article featuring many totally crazy stories of Ambien-related somnulent behavior (from before the Kennedy incident);
Ambien makes you compusively sleep-eat

categories: Business, Health, Politics
posted by amy at 2:56 PM | #

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