There were approximately 60 million prescriptions written last year for sleep aids for patients in the United States. This tells us both that we may be a nation of insomniacs and that many millions of people are taking sleep aids at night.
After a high-profile drunk driving arrest of a politician’s wife last year led to the discovery that she had been under the influence of a sleep aid, not alcohol, the issue of driver safety and sleep aids came into the national spotlight. A survey in 2007 found that about five percent of drivers on the road during the day tested positively for either a prescription or an over-the-counter sleep aid. In fact, in road tests for one sleep aid, several women had to stop the test because they were too drowsy to complete it safely.
This has led the F.D.A. to embark on a new safety mission, this one focused on whether prescription sleep aids seeking regulatory approval are safe for use at night, and whether the medications wear off in time for the morning commute. The agency is taking a second look at drugs already on the market as well to make sure that doses are correct and won’t put drivers at risk of being intoxicated during the day from their nighttime medications.
A spokesperson for the F.D.A warned patients who take these medications that even if they feel fine in the morning, they could still be impaired. Since the medications impact individuals differently and may impact someone in a different way depending on the day, it can be hard to effectively notify patients that they are at risk of driving while impaired.
The lesson for patients is twofold. First, check with your doctor to make sure that your dosage is correct and discuss concerns about lingering effects. Second, remember that many extenuating circumstances can lead to a drunk driving arrest and charges, and that it is important to stand firm if you know you did nothing wrong and there was some type of mistake.
Source: New York Times, “To Judge Sleep Aids, U.S. looks at Drowsy Driving in the Morning,” Katie Thomas, Aug. 13, 2013.