May 01, 2006
Litigation continues over Vioxx, where a statistically remote risk of heart disease is twisted to favor money-seeking defendants in a way that no self-respecting physician would ever endorse.
Meanwhile, the media have begun beating the stuffing out of another drug, Ambien, as they show pictures of drowsy sleepwalkers cooking or stuffing themselves at the refrigerator in the middle of the night, or write stories about the risks to motor vehicle operators.
But reporters don't always bother to state that these are very rare cases and that Ambien is a very safe drug that millions have tolerated quite well for years now.
Not only that--how many unsuspecting consumers who achieved the peace of a night's sleep from Ambien are now afraid to use it? There are dozens of new Ambien-wary patients in my practice alone, and dozens more who seem to be surprised that I continue to recommend this treatment for many of my insomniacs.
The fact is, the vast majority of my patients experience no side effects whatsoever. Keep in mind the routine side effects of sleeplessness itself: anxiety--even agitation, headaches, difficulty focusing and poor exercise tolerance.
Insomnia is generally far more of a concern than the sleeping pill that treats it. And though Ambien can sometimes be habit forming, it is not physically addictive the way some older sleeping pills in the benzodiazepine class are.
In fact, Ambien is so well tolerated and effective that is has changed the way doctors treat insomnia. It in an important arrow in my medical quiver that has been well tested and has earned its place as a primary sleeping pill.
How unjust and unfortunate is it that such a helpful treatment could be suddently subject to the media's unique brand of singular over-attention? Medical misinformation of this kind helps neither doctors now their patients.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear