Research has found that new users of prescription sleep aids may experience crash risk estimates akin to those of drivers with elevated BAC levels.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep disorders affect an estimated 70 million people in America. For those in Virginia and elsewhere with conditions such as sleep apnea and insomnia, it may be challenging to get the rest their bodies need. This leads many to be prescribed sleep aids. While these types of medications may be instrumental in helping people get much-needed sleep, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests they may also put them at an increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, which may result in serious personal injury or death.

How do sleep aids work?

Generally classified as sedative hypnotics, prescription sleep aids work by promoting drowsiness. Some are specifically designed for this effect, while the sedating quality is a side effect for other medications. Many of these drugs achieve this by targeting the brain's receptors in order to slow down the nervous system.

Depending on whether they are used to induce or maintain sleep, among other factors, some sleep aids may stay in people's systems for an extended period. Consequently, people may experience their effects, such as drowsiness, into the morning after taking them. In fact, research showing some sleep aid levels remain high enough in the bloodstream the day after taking them to increase drivers' crash risk prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning in 2013. At that time, the FDA suggested manufacturers cut the recommended dosages, stating that physicians should prescribe the lowest possible dose.

Examining the effects of sleeping pills on drivers

Noting some of the commonly experienced side effects of several of the leading prescription sleep aids, researchers from the University of Washington sought to better understand how these medications impact drivers. To this end, they conducted a new user cohort study. The researchers examined the health care and motor vehicle records for 409,171 people over the age of 21-years-old who were licensed to drive in Washington and participated in a state health plan. They focused in on those who were newly prescribed temazepam, trazodone and zolpidem, sometimes sold under the brand names Restoril, Oleptro and Ambien, between 2003 and 2008.

New sleeping pill users at greater crash risk

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest sleeping pill use is associated with risk estimates equivalent to those experienced by motorists who get behind the wheel with BAC levels of between 0.06% and 0.11%. For up to one year after they are first prescribed the medication, people who take Oleptro may have a 91 percent higher risk of getting into a car collision than non-sleep aid users, according to the study. The research found the risk may be 27 percent higher for people who take Restoril. New users of Ambien had the most significant crash risk, being nearly two times as likely to be involved in a wreck as drivers who do not use sleeping pills.

Seeking legal guidance

When motor vehicle accidents occur in Virginia and elsewhere, those involved may suffer serious injuries that necessitate extensive medical care. For many, this leads to undue medical expenses, as well as lost wages during their recoveries. Therefore, those who have experienced such situations may find it helpful to consult with an attorney to discuss their rights. A lawyer may help them determine their options for pursuing financial compensation for their losses, and identify whether factors such as sleeping pill use may have played a part in their collisions.