Ambien Has Some Terrible Side Effects, Even If It Doesn't Make You Racist

Photo: Tim Boyle (Getty Images)

Soros truther and former hit TV star Roseanne Barr penned a barrage of tweets attempting to explain some recent racist, paranoid tweets that got her namesake show cancelled. Among the explanations she offered, such as it being Memorial Day, she alluded to tweeting while taking the sleep aid zolpidem, commonly sold under the brand name Ambien.

Barr eventually deleted that tweet, and later said her use of Ambien wasn't meant to be an excuse for her comments about Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser in the Obama White House. Barr referred to Jarrett, who is black, as the offspring of the "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes." Many people mocked Barr for blaming Ambien — including the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, which makes the sleep drug.

The company's US branch tweeted Wednesday morning that while "all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication." It was a tweet that quickly got people cheering on the company, and even seemed to raise its stock prices a bit.

But though Barr's defence is flimsy, given her long history of inflammatory, false, and bigoted rhetoric, it's also true that zolpidem really can seriously impact users, according to countless reports from patients who say the drug caused them to behave erratically and out of character. Those risks are even greater for women taking the drug, according to the FDA.

Sanofi says the side effects of zolpidem may include anxiety, depression, nervousness, strange behaviour, thoughts of self-harm, memory loss, hallucinations, and severe confusion. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that some 19,000 emergency room visits in 2010 involved zolpidem. This was a sharp uptick from the approximately 6,000 zolpidem-related ER visits that occurred in 2005, and reflects the trend of more people turning to sleep aids to combat insomnia. "Sleep-driving" is even one of the horrifying risks included in the company's prescribing information for Ambien.

So, it's annoyingly smug for Sanofi to fire off a clever tweet that downplays the very real potential negative side effects of its product.

Ambien was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1992, and remains the leading prescription treatment for insomnia. But it soon became clear it and similar drugs could also cause bizarre symptoms in people, according to patient complaints. In 2007, the FDA attached warnings to Ambien and 12 other drugs, following a class-action lawsuit against the company that alleged people were suffering from sleepwalking episodes, hallucinations, nonstop nighttime eating of unusual things like raw eggs, memory loss, and violent behaviour. There have even been reports of Ambien-associated murder.

In 2013, the FDA went a step further. It forced the manufacturers of Ambien and other sleep aids in the same drug class, known as hypnotics, to lower by half the recommended bedtime dose for women, after it was found that some people's blood had levels of the drug high enough the next day to impair their driving and motor skills (the FDA made a similar request to alter doses given to men, but it wasn't mandatory). At the time, Sanofi stated that it stood "behind the significant clinical data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of Ambien."

None of this is meant to be a justification for Barr, who in March accused Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg over Twitter of giving a Nazi salute in a photo of him raising his fist during the March for Our Lives (she later retracted that claim and deleted the tweet). And Barr has trafficked in conspiracy theories and strange, debunked beliefs since long before she was back on the airwaves.

But as with so many political battles these days, there are no real heroes here. Not the television company that decided to suddenly stop ignoring Barr's racism when it became inconvenient, and certainly not the pharmaceutical company that managed to get a sick social media burn in while reportedly creating an oligopoly with other companies that has allowed it to keep raising the price of insulin medications.

So please, for the love of God, do not welcome Sanofi to the #Resistance.

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