The dirty little (fatal) secret behind pharmaceutical sleep aids

Slumdog sleepwalkers

“Hard Work Never Kills. Lack of Sleep Can.”

That’s the chilling advertising catch-phrase Abbott Laboratories is using to try and convince a billion consumers in India to ask their doctors about sleep difficulties.

You see, in India, drug companies can’t advertise their products direct to consumers like they do in the U.S. So Abbott can’t come right out and make an obvious pitch for their sleep-aid Zolfresh (which is chemically identical to Ambien).

Instead, Abbott is pushing insomniacs’ fear buttons with an “educational” message designed to get them talking to their doctors, which could result in millions of prescriptions being written.

Here’s the core of Abbott’s message: “Research shows that sleeping less than 6 hours at night leads to 48% increase in developing or dying from heart disease.”

Scary? Sure. But you could make a good case for calling that a straight-up lie.

The research didn’t take into account chronic stress and other dangerous health issues that tend to keep us awake. So there’s a loose association, but no direct link between lack of sleep and heart disease.

More importantly, those statistics mask a detail about drug sleep-aids that everyone needs to know about — from Baltimore to Bombay and all points in between.

Put it like this: “Hard Work Never Kills. Pharmaceutical Sleep-Aids Might.”

Outsourcing greater risks

People who use drug sleep-aids really do get more sleep. Research that collected results of several sleep-aid studies showed that, on average, subjects slept about 11 additional minutes.

Seriously — 11 measly minutes!

The phrase “hardly worth it” comes to mind. Especially considering that Ambien, Zolfresh and other powerful sleep-aid drugs may prompt dangerous side effects including sleep-walking, sleep-cooking, and sleep-driving.

But a much more serious health threat lurks as well.

Commenting on the Abbott advertising in India, Dr. Kripke, a psychiatrist at UCSD gave Reuters the best possible reason for avoiding these drugs: “The use of sleeping pills, including zolpidem [the generic name for Zolfresh and Ambien], is associated with higher mortality, and there are 18 studies that show that.”

Last year I told you about one of those studies. It showed a link between the regular use of sedative drugs and a 36 percent increased risk of death during the study period. And this was AFTER accounting for factors such as existing
diseases, lifestyle, smoking, depression, etc.

Researchers believe that these powerful drugs might boost death risk in a variety of ways, including respiratory and central nervous system inhibition, and impaired alertness, coordination, and reaction time.

Tell your friends — in India or anywhere — don’t fall for Abbott’s nightmare sales pitch.

“Pushing Western medicine with fear in India” Frederik Joelving, Reuters Health, 7/7/11,

“Medications for Insomnia or Anxiety Linked to 36% Increase in Mortality Risk” Laurie Barclay, M.D., Medscape, 10/5/10,

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