Sleeping pills may be deadly. That was the message of an April 30, 2019 statement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the agency, it will be issuing boxed warnings on a number of sleeping pills. Among the drugs affected are:

• Zolpidem (brand names: Zolpimist, Intermezzo, Edluar, Ambien CR, and Ambien)
• Zaleplon (brand name: Sonata)
• Eszopiclone (brand name: Lunesta)

Known popularly as black box warnings, the warnings would also come with medication guides for patients and contraindications, which are strong recommendations not to use the drugs in certain instances.

The contraindications include warnings for people who have had unusual or dangerous experiences using such drugs. That’s why the FDA is issuing such strong warnings and other information about the drugs: they may produce dangerous experiences.

And dangerous they are. The FDA reviewed the cases of sixty-six people who died or suffered severe consequences after taking the prescription sleep medications eszopiclone, zaleplon, and zolpidem.

Deaths occurred due to motor vehicle accidents, hypothermia, drowning, falls, carbon monoxide, and apparent suicide, all occurring while people were using the drugs in question. People using the prescription drugs also hurt themselves by falling, exposing themselves to extreme cold and losing limbs, almost drowning, burning themselves, carbon monoxide poisoning, overdosing accidentally, shooting themselves, harming themselves in other ways, and apparently attempting suicide.

Such instances illustrate the complexities of how drugs work. A number of people experience such side effects, but several do not. Different people experience different things on the exact same dosages of the exact same drugs.

Sleeping pills are powerful medical tools and people should only take them under medical supervision. This supervision may determine if people are healthy enough to use drugs. The supervision may also determine if people are taking other medications or doing other things that may affect the efficacy of the drugs. Supervision may monitor the dosage of people’s prescriptions and how many pills they take in a certain period of time.

Drugs have the power to help or harm. Supervision and authorities may help them be more helpful than harmful.

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