What are health risks of Ambien?

Doctors say there are rare side effects when taking the Ambien pill

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - A bizarre story involving the popular sleeping pill Ambien has a lot of people talking. Police say a woman fell asleep in her car while in the drive-thru of a McDonald's on Washington Avenue. She told police Ambien was to blame.

A lot of KPRC Local 2 viewers tell us they've had similar episodes after taking the pill. So what are the health risks and who shouldn't be taking it? We took those questions to a Houston doctor.

A woman dressed in pajamas, including a pink bathrobe, was dozing off behind the wheel at a McDonald's drive-thru and then crashed. She told officers she took Ambien which is a sleeping medicine and she was in a dream state.

Richard Castriotta, M.D. with UTHealth / Memorial Hermann Hospital, is familiar with the side effects.

"They're in a sort of semi-sleep awake state," Dr. Castriotta said. "It's like being drunk, not being able to control your own sense."

According to Dr. Castriotta, he's seen this before.

"Walking around in your sleep and eating in your sleep, having sex in your sleep, driving in your sleep," he said.

He warns the side effects are rare, but can increase if you're using other medicines. You should also use extra caution if you're elderly.

The woman at the McDonald's is not alone with her unusual behavior.

Teresa confessed on the KPRC Local 2 Facebook page, "I have however taken it one time and didn't go straight to bed and did go straight to the kitchen and pigged out on cereal!"

Jennefer wrote, "I took it for a short period of time. It causes amnesia really bad."

Just last month, the Food and Drug Administration addressed concerns about Ambien. The manufacturer actually changed labels on the drug to recommend lower doses, especially for women.

"We recommend only five milligrams in women and 10 milligrams most in men," said Dr. Castriotta.

In 2005, an Austin-area woman joined a class action lawsuit against the makers of Ambien. She claimed she got into a car accident after taking Ambien and woke up in a jail cell with no memory of what happened.

Police tell us the woman involved in Monday's accident had a valid prescription for Ambien. A family member was called to pick her up.

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