We have previously written about the growing public awareness surrounding prescription drugs and how they can impair driving ability. One of the drugs most associated with this problem is the sleep aid Ambien. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration warned Americans that many people who take Ambien to fall asleep at night may still be too groggy to drive safely the next morning. This increases their likelihood of causing an auto accident.
There are also rare but serious cases in which people engage in activities during Ambien-induced sleep that go far beyond sleep-walking. Some reported activities include eating, having sex and even driving.
A fatal car accident that the took the life of a North Carolina man in May of this year appears to have been caused by an episode of sleep-driving. According to a news interview with his daughter, the man was prescribed Ambien to help him with insomnia caused by grief over the recent death of his wife.
The woman told reporters that as she was painting his upstairs bathroom one night, she heard her father call up the stairs to her. He was asking her where his car keys were. She told him and he left the house without saying anything else. What she didn't realize is that he had been asleep during their brief conversation.
The man drove for seven miles, asleep in his pajamas behind the wheel. He eventually came to a bend in the road but continued driving straight ahead. He was killed when his car struck a tree and burst into flames.
A toxicology report revealed that in addition to Ambien, the man had also taken the painkiller hydrocodone. Mixing the two drugs may be partially to blame for his sleep-driving episode, but it is unclear what role drug interaction played.
Health professionals say that patients should be carefully evaluated before being prescribed Ambien or other drugs for insomnia. Additionally, it's important to closely monitor a loved one who takes sleeping aids to make sure they don't suffer from these rare but serious side effects.
Sadly, this man's family learned that valuable lesson a little too late.
Source: WRAL.com, “Franklin family spreads warning about sleep aids, side effects,” Sept. 9, 2013