New research suggests that some popular sleeping aids may increase the risk of respiratory cancer, raising concerns about the safety of widely used medications like Ambien, Xanax, Valium and others.
In a study published earlier this month in the medical journal Sleep Medicine, researchers from the Norway Institute of Public Health found that the use of benzodiazapines and a class of drugs known as z-hypnotics could triple the risk of cancers that affect the respiratory system, such as lung cancer.
Researchers looked at data from the Finnish Cancer Register and the Drug Prescription Register of Finland, evaluating data on about 30,000 subjects, including more than 5,000 with cancer diagnosed from 2002 through 2011.
According to the findings, the use of sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Valium, Zanax and Ativan appear to increase the risk of all types of cancers slightly, but the greatest and most significant increased risks came from lung cancers and similar ailments. While the risk of all cancers was increased by just under 20%, the risk of respiratory cancer rocketed up 347%, according to the findings.
Researchers called for further studies to examine the links between cancer, sedatives and sleeping pills.
The findings come a little more than a month after the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) raised questions about the safety of Ambien and similar sleeping drugs, suggesting that clinical trials used to obtain FDA approval for the medications do not actually match how the drugs are used. The ISMP found that consumers often use the medications far longer than is recommended, and they are often used by those with mental illness or taking other psychoactive drugs.
According to the ISMP report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Ambien and its generic zolpidem equivalents were the drug most linked with emergency room visits, according to adverse event data received by the FDA. According to the report, there are an estimated 10,2112 emergency department visits each year linked to Ambien use, with 25% of those requiring the person be hospitalized.
The findings are similar to those of another study published last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which found that emergency room visits involving side effects of Ambien increased from 21,824 in 2005 to 2006, up to more than 42,000 in 2009 to 2010.
In 2014, the FDA received 1,030 serious adverse event reports where Ambien was the primary or secondary drug suspected of causing the problem.
Lingering Ambien Side Effects
Amid increasing use of sleeping pills, concerns have emerged about problems that may be caused by lingering effects of the medication the next day, including drowsy driving accidents and other issues caused when individuals remain dangerously impaired the next day. Several reports suggest that women may be more susceptible to these problems, but all individuals required to perform tasks requiring high levels of alertness may be at risk.
In January 2013, the FDA issued a safety alert indicating that recommended Ambien doses should be lowered, cutting the recommended dose for women in half, and indicated that doctors should prescribe all patients the lowest dose possible to treat the symptoms.
New warnings for Ambien, Zolpimist and other zolidem sleeping pills were approved by the FDA in May 2013, indicating that users should not drive or engage in other activities requiring mental alertness the next day after taking the medication.
In May 2013 the FDA approved a new warning label for sleeping pills like Ambien and Zolpimist. The warnings recommended lower doses to reduce the risk of experiencing lingering side effects the following morning after taking the drug.
A study published in August 2013 backed the FDA’s decision to cut doses of Ambien and other sleeping drugs, concluding that individuals taking the sleeping pills may not recognize their level of impairment the following day before driving or completing other complex tasks.
Researchers said levels of the drugs remain in the blood stream for more than an eight-hour sleep and stay high in the morning. This impairs the ability to perform certain tasks, but also impairs the users judgment whether they are still under the influence of the drug.
According to a report published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, people who take Ambien or other sleeping pills are five times for likely to die within two and a half years than someone who does not take sleeping pills. The study also revealed sleeping pill users may also face an increased risk of developing cancer.
Health experts estimate six to 10 percent of the adult population used sleeping pills in 2010, making them one of the most widely used classes of drugs in the U.S.
According to the ISMP there were 40 million dispensed prescriptions for Ambien in 2013, the vast majority of those were for the pills in their generic form.