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New study links prescription sleep drugs to greater risks of death, cancer

Filed March 1st, 2012 Joshua Sophy

People taking prescription sleep drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, Restoril, and Sonata face a greater risk of developing cancer or dying early than those who avoid the medications altogether.

According to an L.A. Times report on a study appearing in British Medical Journal’s BMJ Open publication, researchers reviewing the safety of these drugs noted that between six and ten percent of people taking them were more likely to develop a cancer or die before their normal life expectancy. It could not be determined if the sleeping drugs were the cause of these side effects or if people who sought prescription sleep drugs were more likely to experience them.

The increased risk was noted even among the most casual users of sleep aids. Taking up to just 18 pills per year, people were three times as likely to die early when compared to a person who hadn’t taken one of these drugs ever. Taking the equivalent of a pill every three days or more often increased that risk to five times more than a person not taking these drugs.

Researchers from Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif., and Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine conducted research for the study.

In addition to the risk of early death, the study also noted that people taking the most prescription sleep drugs during their study period were 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer in that time than those taking no sleep drugs. More than 10,000 people participated in the study and they were followed for anywhere between three months to four years. Nearly half the participants took Ambien, reflective of the drug’s dominance in a billion-dollar business of marking prescription sleep aids.

Millions of people in the U.S. seem to “rely” on the benefits of drugs like Ambien and Lunesta and marketing campaigns for the drugs are heavy on those benefits, but seem to gloss over these and other side effects.

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