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Americans may be relying too heavily on sleeping pills


New report identifies side effects, examines effectiveness of top insomnia medications; DTC advertising contributes to increased use of sleep drugs, says CU’s President

YONKERS, NY – Americans with insomnia may be relying too heavily on sleeping pills instead
of trying safer non-drug remedies, according to a new report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs,
which recommends that consumers who take sleeping pills do so for the shortest period possible because
of the risk of side effects and misuse.
The September 2006 issue of Consumer Reports finds that in 2005 use of sleeping drugs in the
United States is generally correlated to the growth in direct-to-consumer advertising of sleep medications.
Pharmacists filled 43 million prescriptions for sleep drugs in 2005, a 32 percent increase from 2001.
Prescription insomnia medications brought pharmaceutical companies more than $2.7 billion in 2005.
Both the Consumer Reports story on sleep medications and the CR Best Buy Drugs insomnia report are
available free at www.ConsumerReports.org/health.
“Sleeping pills are best taken for the short term, and only if they are really needed,” said Marvin
M. Lipman, M.D., Consumers Union’s Chief Medical Adviser. “The advertisements for these drugs may
be lulling too many people into believing that these medicines can be taken regularly without
The CR Best Buy Drugs report notes that newer sleeping pills do have side effects. These range
from minor, such as dizziness and day-after sleepiness, to the more serious, such as cognitive impairment,
dependency and rebound insomnia, in which symptoms return or even worsen after the person stops
taking the pills. There have also been reports of short-term memory loss, sleep walking, and sleep driving
when taking sleeping pills; though rare, some people may be susceptible to those effects. Such rare
effects also may be exacerbated by combining sleeping pills with alcohol.
The report urges people to talk with their doctors about whether they really need a pill. People
who have chronic insomnia – trouble sleeping three or more nights a week for at least a month – should
try behavioral therapy that improves sleep habits and attitudes toward sleeping and bedtime. Some
studies show this treatment provides greater benefits than pills over the long term, though chronic
insomnia sufferers may have to occasionally take sleeping pills.
The four newer medicines to treat insomnia – Ambien and Ambien CR, Lunesta, Sonata and
Rozerem – are effective at helping people get to sleep and stay asleep, but not necessarily better than
older, less-expensive drugs for many people who need a sleep aid for a night or two, the report found.
Those include non-prescription products, such as Nytol and Tylenol PM, that contain antihistamines, or
older prescription sedatives called benzodiazepines, such as Dalmane (flurazepam) or Restoril
(temazepam). The report selected Ambien (zolpidem) as a Best Buy, based primarily on the fact that it is
slated to become available as a generic in October. Fifteen doses of Ambien now cost around $58; when it
becomes generic, that price is expected to decline 50 percent to 70 percent.
Consumers Union’s President Jim Guest states, “Consumers deserve unbiased, accurate
information about how well drugs work, their risks, and whether they’re worth the cost. Today’s drug
ads drive up health-care costs, overstate the value of pills, and underplay the dangers of new drugs that
have not been proved safe over time. The pharmaceutical industry should stop the hype and give
consumers additional and more relevant facts,” he said.
The Consumer Reports article cites the recent ad blitz as a factor driving the sales of sleep drugs.
For example, Lunesta’s manufacturer, Sepracor, which introduced the drug in April 2005, spent $227
million on advertising that year. Prescriptions for Lunesta totaled 98,471 in April 2005; by December,
that number more than quadrupled to 477,877. Lunesta was the most frequently advertised prescription
drug in the United States last year, likely prompting the market leader, Ambien, to buy more advertising
time and inundate consumers with sleep drug advertisements. Ambien is the 14th-most prescribed drug in
the country.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs www.CRBestBuyDrugs.org is a free, public education
project that identifies effective, safe and affordable medicines based on the scientific evidence. The report
is the latest in a series that identifies cost-effective drugs for such problems as high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, heartburn, menopause, depression, allergies and pain.
Contact: Susan Herold, 202-462-6262