Bad reactions to anti-anxiety medications and sedatives send more people to the emergency room than any other drugs, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The findings come from an analysis of medical records from 63 hospitals from 2009 to 2011. Researchers noted that most of the ER visits involved adverse side effects or overdoses, and nearly 20 percent of those resulted in hospitalizations.
The biggest problem-maker was the sedative zolpidem tartrate, the active ingredient in the brand-name sleep aid Ambien. The drug is available in other brands as well as in generic. The drug accounted for nearly 12 percent of all ER visits and 20 percent of visits from adults 65 years and older.
In January 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Safety Communication warning that Ambien and other zolpidem-containing drugs, can cause next-day impairment and recommended that dosages be lowered to reduce the risk. The warning stated that women were found to be more susceptible to the risk because they eliminate Ambien from their bodies slower than men.
In May, the FDA issued a similar warning about the insomnia drug Lunesta (eszopidclone), however the lingering effects of Lunesta were similar in both men and women.
The FDA is still investigating the risk of mental alertness with the entire class of sleep aids, including over-the-counter medications, and said it will issue an update once its review is complete.
Adverse reactions to psychiatric drugs involved mental disturbances, heart-related symptoms and intestinal problems. Researchers say that the findings prove that doctors and patients should thoroughly discuss the risks and benefits of a medication before they are prescribed.