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Ambien: Driving Under the Influence

January 3, 2006

People who take sleeping pills such as Ambien (zolpidem) should proceed with caution: driving while prescription sedatives are still on your system could draw criminal consequences, if you cause a fatal accident.

The precedent has already been set, according to a report by, Las Vegas, who report that a man in Texas has been sentenced to 15 years in jail, following his conviction of "intoxication manslaughter". But alcohol wasn't to blame- he was driving under the influence of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Ambien.

Ambien is the best-selling sleep aid available in the US, with annual sales around $1.8 billion, according to

Ambien's principle effects are to induce sleep and cause relaxation, and it is used to treat a variety of sleep disorders, including difficulty falling asleep, waking often during the night, or waking up too early in the morning. However, Ambien may remain in the system for 12 hour and cause significant drowsiness for up to 8 hours, according to the report.

Law enforcement officials are warning people not to drive when "under the influence" of Ambien or other prescription sedatives or over-the-counter drugs that may induce drowsiness or dizziness.

"It's your responsibility not to drive," Las Vegas Metro's Sargeant Tracy McDonald said to"Should you go out and be involved in an accident and God forbid you kill somebody, then under the new vehicular manslaughter law you could go to jail for six months and lose your license for a year because you took a medication you thought was safe."

As with any prescription drug, doctors and pharmacists advise it is best to see how your body reacts to new medications before trying to drive by taking a walk and observing whether you experience light-headedness or blurred vision, or if you stumble or feel unusually sleepy.

Popular Sleep Aid Can Affect Safe Driving,, Las Vegas, 28 December 2005.

Posted: January 2006