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Sleep Aids May Increase Risk of Car Accidents

Drowsiness and impaired coordination make it difficult for drivers to stay safe

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently discovered that certain prescription sleep aids can significantly increase the risk of car accidents.

This new study focused on an anti-insomnia drug called zolpidem, which is used in prescription medications such as Ambien, Intermezzo and Stilnox. Zolpidem's side effects include drowsiness upon waking and impaired coordination, which have obvious consequences behind the wheel.

Overall, the study showed that the accident rate for zolpidem users was 46 percent higher than for non-users, according to Consumer Affairs. However, that difference varied significantly among demographic groups. Men who used zolpidem had only 23 percent more accidents than non-users, while in women, the accident rate was 65 percent higher for users than non-users. Perhaps most stunningly at all, for elderly drivers 80 and over, the collision rate increased by 124 percent for users as compared to non-users.

Other medications are also correlated with increased accident rates

Zolpidem is only the latest in a series of medications correlated with increased danger behind the wheel. For instance, antihistamines - typically but not exclusively used in allergy medications such as Benadryl and Claritin - can cause drowsiness and impairment behind the wheel.

Driving under the influence of a prescription or over-the-counter medication doesn't have the same stigma as driving drunk, but it can be just as deadly. And because most motorists are not aware of this danger, they're more likely to get behind the wheel, whereas people who drink alcohol may use a designated driver or wait to sober up before driving home.

Legal cases involving prescription and over-the-counter medications that cause accidents can be quite complex. Of course, motorists have a responsibility to recognize when they are too impaired to drive, and motorists who choose to drive while impaired can be held liable for the injuries they cause. Sometimes, however the danger of certain medications is not disclosed. For instance, if a drug manufacturer fails to warn healthcare providers that a particular medication causes drowsiness or impairment, and a driver who is taking that medication then causes an accident, someone injured in that accident could file a product liability claim against the manufacturer.

In other cases, the danger is appropriately disclosed to healthcare professionals, but those care providers fail to inform their patients. If a patient taking such a medication goes on to be hurt in an accident, he or she may be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the medical professional in question.

Impairment, whether due to alcohol or drugs, is a leading cause of accidents in general and fatalities in particular. Motorists and medical professionals alike need to be aware of the dangers posed by certain medications and take steps to keep the roads safer for everyone.

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