Prescription Sleeping Pills Tied To Higher Death Risk

A new study has found that prescription sleep aids have been linked to increased risks of death. Some 6 to 10% of Americans take a prescription sleep medication such as Ambien (zolpidem), Restoril (temazepam), Lunesta (eszopiclone), and Sonata (zaleplon).

According to the study, people who take prescription sleep aids may be at increased risks for cancer and are significantly likelier to die prematurely, when compared to people who don’t take sleeping pills, said The LA Times. Even more disturbing, according to the research, is that the increased rates even when the drugs are taken at very low levels.

For people prescribed as little as only 18 sleeping pills a year, the deaths seen during the study period were three and a-half times greater than for people who did not take the medications, said The LA Times. For those taking the largest number of prescription sleep aids, over 132 yearly, the risk for death jumped to five times greater, according to the study, said The LA Times.

Although the study was not conducted to establish if sleep aids cause increased cancers, the study did find increased cancer rates in people taking prescription sleep aids. The study was released this week by the British medical publication BMJ Open, said The LA Times. The increase, although modest, was deemed statistically significant.

When compared to patients who do not take prescription sleeping pills, those identified as the heaviest users of the medications were also 35% likelier to be diagnosed with cancer during the study period, according to the study, wrote The LA Times.

The study was conducted by researchers from Scripps and the Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine in Jackson, Wyoming and tracked 10,531 patients who were given prescriptions for hypnotic sedatives for anywhere from three months to four years. Researchers matched each patient in the sleep aid group to at least two of similar age, gender, and health status with no record of being prescribed sleep aids, aid The LA Times.

Ambien was the most widely used prescription sleep medication in this study, followed by Restoril; 4,117 of the participants received prescriptions for other sleep aids, including Lunesta, Sonata, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and sedative antihistamines, The LA Times explained. According to the authors, in 2010 alone, some 320,000 – 507,000 deaths in the United States alone might be linked to sleep-aid use. In 2010, Americans filled about 66 million prescriptions for “hypnotics and sedatives,” said IMS Health, which tracks drug trends, said The LA Times.

We previously wrote that new generation sleeping pills, like Lunesta and Ambien, may be as likely to cause serious adverse reactions as older sleep aids. While older pills are much more likely to cause daytime sedation, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms, drugs classified as nonbenzodiazepines (NBZs), including Lunesta and Ambien, seem just as likely to cause amnesia and erratic behavior.

Introduced in the 1990s, NBZs are sedatives used for the treatment of insomnia. An analysis of adverse event reports filed with the World Health Organization suggests that some side effects of this generation of sleep medications may be as bad as—and even worse than—older generation sleep aids.

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