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Study Finds Drivers Who Use Sleeping Pills Face Increased Car Crash Risks

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It is well known that driving under the influence of prescription medications - including sleeping pills - is a negligent act that places others on the road at risk of suffering harm in preventable car crashes. According to a new study, however, even when drivers believe they may be using sleeping pills responsibly and within approved guidelines, they could still be at an increased risk of being in car accidents.

Here are some details about the study:

  • The study - led by the University of Washington’s school of pharmacy and published in the American Journal of Health - found that drivers who took one of three popular sleeping aids had between a 25% and three times higher risk of being in an accident.
  • Researchers analyzed medical and driving records of over 400,000 people in Washington. Under 6% of the subjects were written new prescriptions for sleeping aids within the past five years.
  • The study focused on three popular medications: Ambien (zolpidem), Oleptro (trazodone), and Restoril (temazepam).
  • Reasearchers found that Restoril had a 27% higher risk of car accidents over five years. Trazodone users had nearly double the risk and Ambien users were more than twice as likely to be involved in car accidents as drivers who didn’t take sleeping medications. Risks were similar to those exhibited by drunk drivers over the legal limit.

The risks posed by sleeping pills have raised attention for some time. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required drug makers to lower doses in popular sleeping medications after research showed they could remain in the bloodstream at levels high enough to affect morning driving.

Given the risks presented by sleeping pills, the FDA strongly encourages doctors to prescribe the lowest possible dose to patients. Additionally, patients should understand that the effects of sleeping medications, and give themselves plenty of time before driving.

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