Healy Scanlon Law Firm

Sleep-medicine dosages increase risk of car and truck accidents

We have all felt drowsy behind the wheel at one point or another, especially when traveling late at night or driving for hours at a stretch. But for long-haul truckers and other commercial motorists, drowsy driving is often a daily reality.

Truck driver fatigue is a serious issue that increases the likelihood of an injurious or fatal truck accident. In addition to long hours behind the wheel, being a truck driver often means an irregular sleep schedule and a sedentary lifestyle that can lead to disorders such as sleep apnea.

And for commercial truck drivers who rely on sleep medicines to get a restful night's sleep, the accident risk may be even higher. That's according to the Food and Drug Administration, which recently warned all Americans that the current recommended dosages of many popular sleep aids are too high and could lead to dangerously impaired driving during the morning commute.

Of particular concern are medicines with the active ingredient zolpidem. Included in this list are familiar drugs like Ambien, Zolpimist and Edlaur, as well as their generic counterparts.

The FDA is recommending that most women should be cutting their nightly dose by half, and that all patients taking prescription sleep aids should talk to their doctor about switching to a lower dose. The agency is also asking manufacturers of these drugs to offer pills with smaller doses and to better inform patients about the risks and side effects.

A representative for the FDA recently explained that "The purpose of lowering (the dosage) is to help decrease the risk of next-morning impairment during activities that require alertness. We're particularly concerned about driving. A large fraction of the population drives and driving is an inherently dangerous activity."

All motorists who use sleep aids need to be concerned about the risks of drowsy driving. Furthermore, it may be necessary to focus special attention and regulatory efforts on the trucking industry, which already suffers from a high rate of driver fatigue.

Source: Health.com, "FDA: Lower Ambien's Dose to Prevent Drowsy Driving," Amanda Gardner, Jan. 11, 2013

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