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Ambien Outrage: Murder, Rape, and Other Disturbing Behavior on America's Favorite Sleeping Pill

45-year-old Robert Stewart rushed into the Pinelake Health and Rehab Nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina and opened fire on March 29th 2009. Eight people were killed and two were injured; his target for the shooting was his ex-wife who worked in the nursing home. She was hiding in the bathroom during the shooting and was unharmed. Robert Stewart was charged with eight counts of 1st degree murder and even though the actions were premeditated, his defense team effectively debated that since he was under the influence of Ambien during the shooting, he wasn’t in control of his activities. Stewart ended up being convicted of eight counts of 2nd degree murder and receive 142-179 years in prison.

Ambien (also known as zolpidem) is a sedative, also titled a hypnotic. It affects chemicals in your brain that may become uneven and cause sleep complications. Ambien is most commonly used to treat insomnia. The instant release pill is used to help you fall asleep when you first go to bed. The extended release pill (Ambien CR) which has a first coating that dissolves quickly to help you fall asleep, and a second layer that dissolves gradually to help you stay asleep. Ambien was approved by the FDA in 1992 and was designed for short term use to battle insomnia and was a welcome change from the prevailing sleep aid at the time, Halcion, which had been associated in psychosis, suicide, and addiction and had been banned in half a dozen countries.

Ambien rapidly rose to domination in the sleep assistance market after it was approved. Sanofi, Ambien’s French manufacturer, made $2 billion in sales at its peak. In 2007 the generic version of Ambien was out, Zolpidem, and at less than $2 per pill, it still continues to be one of the most prescribed drugs in America, beating popular painkillers like Percocet and prescription strength ibuprofen.

Although the Ambien prescribing info cautioned (in small print) that drugs in the hypnotic class had chance side effects including bizarre behavior, sleep walking and unusual thinking, these behaviors were listed as exceptionally uncommon, and any circumstantial evidence of sleep driving, sleep eating or sleep shopping (all behaviors now related with Ambien blackout) were characterized as unusual flukes, or credited to mixing the medication with alcohol. It wasn’t until Patrick Kennedy’s 2006 late night car accident and following description to arriving officers that he was running late for a vote that the strange side effects of Ambien began to receive nationwide attention. Kennedy claimed that he had taken the sleep aid and had no memory of the happenings that evening.

Soon after the Kennedy occurrence, Sanofi was sued for unusual sleep-eating behaviors while on the drugs. Due to the lawsuit and growing reports coming in about cases of sleep driving, the FDA directed all hypnotics to issue stronger warnings on their labels. The new warning labels not only gave consumers extra info so they could use the medication more carefully but also gave legitimate reasoning to the Ambien (or Zombie) defense.

Ambien has also been implicated in a number of sexual assault cases. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Ambien is quickly overtaking illegal sedatives as the most common date-rape drug. Perpetrators of sexual assault have used zolpidem on unsuspecting victims.

I know that I personally have experience with taking Ambien with other drugs and alcohol and if I could remember the high it gave me I would tell you about it; but that’s just it – I can’t remember it! It was said and I have to agree that if people just took Ambien how it was prescribed and went to sleep a lot of the incidents that went on due to the drug could have been avoided. New sleep medications are being tested every day and hopefully they come up with one that can top Ambien on the market and is safer for consumers. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.


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