PR View by Beth Herskovits

Sleepwalking. Driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Bingeing on half your refrigerator's contents.

The side effects associated with the sleeping pill Ambien make great headlines, not to mention the punch line to many a comedian's late-night joke. They've also put Sanofi-Aventis on the defensive.

After sitting in silence for weeks as the story played out in the media, the company finally issued a statement stressing that the drug is safe and does not need a stronger warning label. But Sanofi-Aventis, by virtue of its reticence, missed a prime opportunity to build positive awareness for the brand. 

Sleep is a booming business. Most adults want to sleep better, and they're more willing than ever to try sleep centers and prescription drugs to achieve a good night's rest. But there is still much for patients—even for medical professionals—to learn about sleep. 

The recent media attention gave Sanofi-Aventis the chance to educate the public about the advances the firm has made in sleep research, as well as the risks and benefits of Ambien.

For instance, Sanofi-Aventis might have reminded patients about the problems sleep deprivation can cause on the road, in relationships and on the job. Sleep problems have also been linked with high blood pressure, strokes and obesity.

Sanofi-Aventis could still have stressed that the adverse reactions associated with sleep medications are rare and exacerbated by taking them with alcohol. But it could have had its senior leadership or medical advisers deliver that message—not a faceless statement on its Web site.

The hubbub has begun to die down—at least until the first lawsuits go to court. The world was listening, but Sanofi-Aventis missed its chance to speak.

Beth Herskovits covers healthcare for PRWeek magazine
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