Consumer Drug Report
New study reveals sleeping pill risks

According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal, patients taking prescription sleeping pills on a regular basis face a greater chance of death over a two year period. The study also found that people taking heavy doses are at an increased risk for developing cancer.

More than 10,500 individuals taking sleeping pills and more than 23,600 people not taking sleeping pills were evaluated. The results showed that taking more than 132 doses of hypnotics per year caused patients to be 5.3 times more likely to die within two and a half years than those not taking sleep medications. The risk for cancer was also 35% higher for patients taking hypnotics than those not taking the medication.

An estimated 60 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled last year in the U.S. According to IMS Health, a health care services company, this number grew from 47 million in 2006.

Some argue that the study does not prove sleeping pills cause death but show a correlation between the two. Studies also reveal that many people continue to take sleeping pills even though most are only approved for short-term use. Generally the safety and effectiveness of sleeping pills are evaluated for several weeks or less during clinical trials.

Dr. Steve Woloshin, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice advocates new labeling for sleeping pills to inform users how well a drug works compared to a placebo. According to a statement from Dr. Woloshin, “The definition of insomnia is that you get less than six and a half hours of sleep, and it takes you 30 minutes or more to fall asleep. But even when the drugs work better than placebos, and they don’t always, people still don’t fall asleep in less than 30 minutes, and they still don’t sleep much longer than six hours.”

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