The ‘Ambien Defense’ Has a Long, Dubious History


Roseanne Barr had an evidence within the aftermath of sending a racist tweet that led to the cancellation of her sitcom, Roseanne: Ambien made me do it.

“It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting,” Barr wrote in a now-deleted tweet, including in a separate submit that she was “Not giving excuses for what I did (tweeted) but I’ve done weird stuff while on ambien.”

Barr’s rationalization prompted Sanofi, the maker of Ambien, to not directly condemn Barr’s claim on Twitter. But the controversial comic is way from the one person in charge erratic (or unlawful) conduct on the sleep assist.

Ambien, a model identify for the drug zolpidem, can generally trigger “sedation, and what we might call delirium, but it’s not getting you fully to sleep,” explains Dr. John Winkelman, chief of the sleep problems scientific analysis program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “People seem to do things that they would ordinarily do” — resembling eating, going to the lavatory or strolling round — “but they’re in an altered state.”

Winkelman likens the impact to that of intoxication from alcohol or different medication, however says the trigger isn’t absolutely understood.

Sanofi clearly warns sufferers that the drug might have uncomfortable side effects that transcend drowsiness. “You may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing,” the drug’s medication guide says, including that alcohol might exacerbate these results. “The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night.”

In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration additionally really useful lower bedtime doses of Ambien, in an effort to chop down on studies of next-day drowsiness extreme sufficient to impede actions resembling driving. The movement didn’t instantly deal with middle-of-the-night uncomfortable side effects, however it means that the drug might do greater than lull customers to sleep. Doctors on the time additionally told the New York Times that decrease doses might probably cut back acts like sleepwalking.

Warnings like these have contributed to a first rate variety of folks utilizing zolpidem’s uncomfortable side effects as a authorized protection or rationale for dangerous or uncommon conduct. A 2011 review revealed in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law particulars loads of situations through which zolpidem allegedly influenced unusual actions, starting from comparatively innocuous (sleep-eating) to harmful (sleep-driving) to unlawful (homicide). Memorably, Rep. Patrick Kennedy crashed his car in 2006 whereas beneath the affect of Ambien, and Charlie Sheen, who known as Ambien “the devil’s aspirin,” blamed the drug for a 2010 lodge rampage.

The Ambien protection has yielded mixed results when really utilized in court docket. While loads of juries have dominated to convict suspects despite it, some people have efficiently seen fees starting from assault to driving under the influence dropped or decreased after arguing the protection in court docket.

Similar defenses predate Ambien, which hit the market in 1992 and is now the most commonly prescribed sleep aid within the U.S. The antidepressant Prozac has been used to clarify away crimes, and so have sleepwalking and eating sugary meals. (The latter, dubbed the “Twinkie defense,” was utilized by the person who killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and really resulted in decreased fees.)

But regardless of the Ambien protection’s comparatively prolonged historical past, Winkelman says the extent to which the drug can form conduct isn’t absolutely understood.

“People are not thinking as clearly, certainly,” says Winkelman, who recommends taking the bottom efficient dose of the drug instantly earlier than mattress, and refraining from mixing it with different sedatives, to cut back uncomfortable side effects. “I don’t think we really know whether this is what people really think, or whether people might do or say things that they actually don’t mean. It’s impossible to know.”

In its tweet, nonetheless, Sanofi was much less circumspect.

“While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects,” it tweeted, “racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”


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