From The New York Times:
Talk about sleepless nights. Patients taking prescription sleep aids on a regular basis were nearly five times as likely as non-users to die over a period of two and a half years, according to a recent study. Even those prescribed fewer than 20 pills a year were at risk, the researchers found; heavy users also were more likely to develop cancer. Unsurprisingly, the findings, published online in the journal BMJ, have caused a quite a stir. Americans filled some 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills last year, up from 47 million in 2006, according to IMS Health, a health care services company. Panicked patients have been calling doctors’ offices seeking reassurance; some others simply quit the pills cold turkey.
Some experts were quick to point out the study’s shortcomings. The analysis did not prove that sleeping pills cause death, critics noted, only that there may be a correlation between the two. And while the authors suggested the sleeping pills were a factor in the deaths, those who use sleep aids tend as a group to be sicker than those who don’t use them. The deaths may simply be a reflection of poorer health. Still, the findings underscore concern about the exploding use of sleeping pills. Experts say that many patients, especially the elderly, should exercise more caution when using sleep medications, including the non-benzodiazepine hypnotics so popular today, like zolpidem (brand name Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata).