Sedatives and Driving May Mean Danger Ahead

Insomnia medications may increase car crash risk among new users

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some drivers may want to put on the brakes when it comes to taking sedatives.

A new study found that the use of sedative hypnotic drugs may nearly double the risk of car crashes in new users.

“In the interest of the public safety on the roads and highways in the United States, individuals who have been prescribed sedative hypnotic medications should be counseled about driving risk and alternative transportation strategies addressed when under the influence of these medications,” wrote Ryan Hansen, PhD, of the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy in Seattle, and colleagues.

Sedative hypnotic drugs are types of sleeping pills that can help patients with insomnia get a good night’s rest. These drugs can have lingering effects that may impair judgment, reaction time and vision, Dr. Hansen and team said.

This study looked at the effects of the sedative hypnotic drugs temazepam (brand name Restoril) and zolpidem (Ambien). It also looked at the antidepressant trazodone (Oleptro)

Dr. Hansen and team looked at data on 409,171 licensed drivers between the ages of 21 and 79. These drivers all had a drug benefit through Group Health Cooperative, which allowed them to get reimbursement for their prescriptions.

These researchers also looked at Washington State driver's license and motor vehicle crash records.

Dr. Hansen and team found that about 6 percent of these patients received new sedative prescriptions. Trazodone was the most commonly prescribed sedative (at 56 percent of those prescribed a sedative). It was followed by temazepam and zolpidem (both at 22 percent).

The drivers who took trazodone were found to have a 91 percent greater risk of being in a vehicle crash — compared to drivers not on the drug. Temazepam use was linked to a 27 percent greater risk. Zolpidem was linked to a 43 percent greater risk, Dr. Hansen and team found.

“[Doctors], pharmacists, and patients should discuss this potential risk and consider the implications of this analysis when selecting a sedative hypnotic medication,” Dr. Hansen and colleagues wrote. “Physicians may also wish to consider [non-sedative] approaches to encouraging healthy sleep.”

This study was published June 11 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Dr. Hansen and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

No conflicts of interest or funding sources were disclosed.

Review Date: 
June 11, 2015
Last Updated:
June 18, 2015