Ambien, Sleeping Meds Linked to Cigarette-Like Death Risk in New Study

Kim LaCapria

The results of a new study concerning sleeping pills like the popular drug Ambien are making waves after researchers say that it appears use of drugs like zolpidem is possibly tied to early death and even cancer.

(May we point out now, legalize it?) The study is alarming in several ways, one notably being that even very occasional users of drugs like Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta have a 5.3 times higher risk of death- as well as a 35% higher risk of cancer. Daniel F. Kripke, MD of the University of California, San Diego is a professor of psychiatry who has been probing the link between a class of sleep medications known as hypnotics and death risk since 1975.

Kripke led the latest study, which examined data gathered between 2002 and 2007 from more than 30,000 patients. More than 10,000 of the patients were prescribed hypnotic sleeping pills during the study, and more than 23,000 were "never prescribed" the class of medications, according to WebMD. In the course of 2.5 years, the participants who did not use hypnotic sleep medications was 1.2%. Among those who had been prescribed drugs like Ambien, it was 6.1%. Kripke and his team estimates that based on the data, use of sleeping pills could be linked to as many as 500,000 deaths in the US alone each year.

Kripke commented:

"We think these sleeping pills are very dangerous. We think they cause death. We think they cause cancers. It is possible but not proven that reducing the use of these pills would lower the U.S. death rate."