THE BLOG
05/20/2014 06:32 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

Is the FDA Sleeping on the Job When It Comes to Sleeping Pills?

A few days ago, the FDA cut the recommended dosage for one of the most popular sleeping pills in half. This brings up some questions -- to put it politely.

Let's forget for a moment that sleeping pills have been linked to serious complications, such as a 35-percent increase in risk for getting cancer. Let's also forget that sleeping pills are not regarded as a long-term treatment by many sleep specialist physicians, and are kind of like the Band-Aid of sleep (i.e., they may seem to help, while they may not actually fix the underlying issue).

But let's not forget that a 50-percent dosage reduction in a pill that has been prescribed over 31 million times is quite a drastic change -- especially for a pill that came out in 2005. And let's not forget that in early 2013 the FDA also cut the dosage for women in half on Ambien, another popular sleeping aid.

This deserves some reflection. How could this have happened in the first place? And what about the people who were taking these pills at what now appears to be a remarkably excessive dosage? It seems reasonable to say that we, the public, deserve some answers.

Let's also remember that FDA is tasked with a very, very difficult set of duties. In fact, the set of responsibilities they have would probably keep most people up at night -- just imagine all of the things that they are supposed to control. At the same time, this does not mean that it should be acceptable for dosages on widely-prescribed pills to be cut in half without so much as an "Uh, we screwed up, and here is what we are doing to make sure it doesn't happen again."

I am on the road almost every day, surrounded by other drivers. Knowing that a good chunk of them may have been too loopy to drive due to incorrect sleeping pill dosages is more than slightly concerning. While it is good to know that FDA identified the error and has taken steps to address it by cutting the dosages, I still want to know how this happened in the first place.

What do you think? Should the FDA give us more of an explanation?

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