THE BLOG

Drivers Beware: Sleep Aids Can Be Hazardous to Your Law-Abiding Life

11/25/2013 10:06 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014
  • Saul Segan Crim Trial Atty-Broadcast Legal Analyst, Motivatonal Speaker, reiki master practitioner, certified mediator

This stress-immersed world is contributing to sleepless nights for many Americans. The desperation for a good night's sleep leads many to seek the aid of numerous devices to achieve that end.

There are many substances available to help achieve this otherwise worthy purpose that are backfiring in catastrophic proportions.

Ambien is the most noteworthy in this category. Some individuals who sought its help in an effort to combat insomnia ended up with drunk driving citations, amnesia, narcoleptic behavior, and serious injuries to themselves or others.

There have been successful defenses of these charges, but with nothing short of an ordeal. The courts are reluctant to relieve the accused of their legal burdens despite the complete innocence of their motives and the unconscious contribution to one's own risk of criminal behavior or intoxication. People have been killed by drivers who have taken these menaces. And the offenders did not remember ANYTHING.

There are two types of sleep problems experienced by patients with insomnia: falling asleep and sleeping through the night. Ambien (zolpidem) helps one fall asleep faster and is supposed to promote a better night's rest, but patients may be deprived of adequate REM (rapid eye movement) associated with dreams. Zolpidem belongs to a class of drugs called hypnotics (a drug designed to put you to sleep, rather than just lower anxiety/sedate you), which acts on the brain to produce a soporific effect. Those who use it are cautioned to not take it unless there is time for at least 7 to 8 hours sleep. This medication, like all sleeping mediation, is usually approved by the FDA for limited treatment periods of 1 to 2 weeks or less, but it is often taken for weeks, months, or years. If the user awakens mid-sleep, and in some patients, especially women, before that, there can be memory loss and a problem with any activity that requires alertness, such as driving or operating machinery like a sewing machine or lawnmower become hazardous. Women and older persons should be given lower doses, like 5 mg, and not the 10 mg standard dose. Like all sedative-hypnotics, this drug can lead to both physical and psychological addiction. Complications involving sleep aids are sending more people to the ER.

Is it worth it?

Ambien produces a type of amnesia call antereograde amnesi, which means you can forget things that happened after you took the drug. Many persons with whom I have discussed their experiences have said they did suffer from total amnesia or lack of recognition of persons that they knew. The loss of recall was widespread and substantial. They were sleep-driving and didn't know it. The FDA's definition of "sleep driving is "driving when you are not fully awake." Imagine combining this intake with alcohol ingestion. I strongly urge my readers to view the following TV video and take heed of its contents: http://wkyc.com/news/health/article/268006/7/A-dangerous-mix-Driving-and-sleeping-pills.

We need to call on our government on this issue as well. What is the FDA doing to prevent the wider spread use of such chemicals, or to make its hazards more widely known? How about adequate testing of these products? We do not need more sleepy or impaired drivers on the road, nor do we need law abiding citizens exposed to criminal liability or innocent bystanders exposed to risk of harm because of these unwieldy and avoidable hazards, inadvertent as they are (meaning the driver had no intent to cause the accidents).

And to those who are often stressed by work or family issues and cannot find calm and relaxation, who cannot stop overacting or obsessing about problems, running them over and over in their minds, I would suggest seeking modalities that bring about the desired ends naturally. I am a big advocate of meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and my absolute favorite, reiki. Visualization, affirmations, and spiritual touches can also contribute to a lifting of our burdens. One short, very helpful book is "Creative Visualizations," by Shakti Gawain. This book teaches you to be positive, develop positive affirmations, and visualize yourself and your activities in a positive, empowering manner. It was recommended to me by Dr. David Benjamin, a pharmacologist and psychopharmacologist. who consulted with me on this blog.

OK, but what to do about the legal issues encountered by the unexpected consequences of these medications? Find a creative and knowledgeable lawyer who has experience defending these cases. Someone who knows his/her way around the courtroom. A lawyer who has access to experienced toxicologist, psychiatrists and psychologists who can testify about the undesirable properties of all sleeping pills, including Ambien.

Lives have been ruined by the unintentional commission of an offense and those who have been convicted of vehicular homicide have gone to prison, despite totally unforeseeable and non-willful perpetration of the infractions. Prosecutors must, in the interest of justice, study the issues involved and become aware of the inability of the average citizenry to be cognizant of the dangers of this totally unintentional or uncontrollable behavior a a dissociative reaction or automation by the mental health community. Instead of prosecuting victims of involuntary intoxication by Ambien, the should conduct a public service campaign to inform and warn the public about the risks of sleep-driving while on any impairing drugs, and the resulting condition (often referred to as "zombieism" by the media). I would hope there would be cooperation in disseminating this information.

Legislators on a state and federal level must act quickly and aggressively to enact controls of the distribution and classification of these types of medications.

Life does not need to provide any more traps.

CORRECTION: This post previously referred to the author of Creative Visualizations as Shakti Ghandi. The author's name is Shakti Gawain.