Zolpidem, the active ingredient in common sleep aids like Ambien, Intermezzo and various generics, accounts for more emergency hospital visits than any other psychoactive drug, according to a study by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) published in its QuarterWatch newsletter. And the reason, ISMP found, is widespread improper use patterns.
“When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed what psychiatric medications were most frequently identified as the reason for emergency department visits, zolpidem ranked first with an estimated 10,212 annual visits, 25% of which required hospital admission,” reported ISMP. “In addition, over the 12 months ending with 2014 Q2 we identified 1,030 serious adverse event cases in which zolpidem was the primary or secondary suspect drug.”
The key problem, QuarterWatch wrote, “is a broad pattern of unsafe use that was not in accord with FDA and manufacturer recommendations.” Using data from the US federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, they found that most zolpidem use “was not in accord with safety recommendations.”
While zolpidem is recommended for short-term use of about a month, 68% of users were using the drug much more regularly over longer time periods. Nearly a quarter of users were also simultaneously taking the sleep aid with other psychoactive drugs targeting the same neuroreceptors.