Drug Profile: Ambien
Generic Name: zolpidem
Forms: tablets (immediate and extended release), oral spray (Zolpimist is the brand name and manufactured by NovaDel Pharma Inc.)
Street Names: No-Go Pills, Zombie Pills, A-minus, Tic-Tacs, Sleepeasy
Appearance (What does Ambien look like?): Immediate release: white (10 mg) or pink (5 mg) oval-shaped tablets with imprints of “AMB 10” or “AMB 5” on one side and “5421” or “5422” on the other; Extended release: blue (12.5 mg) or pink (6.25 mg) round tablets with “A~” imprinted on one side.
Pharmacological Class: Sedative, hypnotic
Medical Uses: to treat occasional insomnia over the short term
Mechanism: causes relaxation, which helps the patient fall asleep.
Availability: Schedule 4 (Read Drug Scheduling and the DEA); approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 1992
FDA Pregnancy Category: Category C (Read FDA Pregnancy Drug Categories)
Addiction Potential: moderate to severe
Possible Side Effects: lowered inhibitions, strange thoughts, thoughts of harming oneself, increased propensity to take risks, aggression, agitation, restlessness, anxiety, confusion, personality changes, hallucinations, depressed mood, poor coordination, forgetfulness, unusual or vivid dreams, amnesia, dizziness, drowsiness during daylight hours, stuffy nose, nausea, constipation, sore throat, blurry vision, pain, headache. An additional unusual yet possible side effect of Ambien is performing normal behaviors while asleep after taking Ambien; although one of the most commonly reported is “sleep-eating” (i.e., individuals wake up with food, silverware, or other items next to them and do not remember how they got there), there have been reports of other sleep activities including sleep driving.
Possible Withdrawal Symptoms: vomiting, convulsions, panic, stomach pain, nausea, cramping, behavioral changes, tremors, anxiety, sweating, and the return of insomnia symptoms
Warning Signs of Abuse: Not taking as ordered by a physician; this can include taking higher dosages, taking more often, or consuming it in a different way (Read Method of Administration: Why “How” Matters). Mixing it with other drugs or alcohol to enhance Ambien’s effects is another sign of abuse. Others include drowsiness during the day; poor coordination; changes in behavior, personality, or thoughts; and frequently feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
Signs of Overdose: extreme lethargy/sleepiness, fainting, light-headedness, coma, confusion, decreased respiration (Read Overdose: Why It Happens & What to Do When It Does).
Controversies Related to Ambien:
- A number of individuals have been injured or died while engaging in dangerous or even everyday activities while in a quasi-sleep state after taking Ambien. Although the manufacturer acknowledges that some cases of sleep eating and other behaviors have been reported, they emphasize Ambien’s safety when used as directed. In some cases, these situations also involved other substances (Read Mixing Substances: What You Should Know). In other cases, the person may have been not using the drug as directed by their physician (Read What the Doctor Ordered? Cracking Down on Prescription Drug Abuse).
- Among the substances found in the toxicology report following Heath Ledger’s death was Ambien. Many other celebrities have turned to the medication for help sleeping (Read The Media’s Portrayal of Celebrity Addictions and Michael Jackson & Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse).
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