Sleeping Pill Prescriptions Reach Record High
A record number of U.S. residents are taking prescription sleeping pills, prompting concerns that the drugs are being overprescribed "without enough regard" to potential side effects or "the implications of long-term use," the New York Times reports. About 42 million prescriptions for sleeping aids were filled in 2005, a nearly 60% increase from 2000, according to research company IMS Health.
One factor in the increase is the growth in advertisements for competing sleep aids, such as Sanofi-Aventis' Ambien and Sepracor's Lunesta, which are among the top sellers. Pharmaceutical companies spent $298 million on advertisements for sleep aids in the first 11 months of 2005, more than four times the amount spent in 2004.
Natexis Bleichroeder financial analyst Jon LeCroy said the market for prescription sleeping pills could grow from its current $2 billion annually to $3.8 billion annually and will become more crowded if Pfizer and Neurocrine Biosciences receive FDA approval for their new treatment, Indiplon.
Meanwhile, experts worry about the implications of the rise in prescriptions.
David Fassler, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, said the heavy advertising and growing popularity of prescription sleep aids could result in their use in patients who have other problems that cause insomnia. He noted that "difficulty sleeping can be a sign of multiple disorders, including problems with anxiety and depression."
Experts also express concern about the possible side effects of sleep aid use, including sleep walking, excessive tiredness the next day and short term amnesia. FDA said it is not aware of an unusual number of complaints about side effects of the drugs (Saul, New York Times, 2/7).