By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is a lot of alarm and concern about new research that says sleeping pills are associated with an increased risk for death. It’s getting major attention because millions of people take sleeping pills on a regular basis.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Center City Hit-And-Run Leaves Woman In Critical Condition, Police Say

The comprehensive new study says taking just 18 sleeping pills a year was linked to a higher risk of death. But doctors are quick to point out the does not prove the sleeping pills themselves are deadly.

“There’s a relationship there. And just because there is a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other,” says Dr. Clete Kushida, a neurologist at the Stanford Sleep Center.

The new research found increased death and cancer rates for people who took hypnotic sleep aids like Ambien, but there are many unanswered questions. Sleep expert Dr. Carl Bazil says, “What we don’t know is, is it because you have insomnia and that has an increased risk of death [associated with it]?”
While acknowledging the need for more research, the study’s authors say they spent months double checking the data.

READ MORE: 'This Is What We Do In A Small Town': Mullica Hill Residents Continue Recovery Efforts Weeks After Tornado

“Only after I was thoroughly convinced that this was there, was I willing to put my name on the paper,” says co-author Dr. Robert Langer, who also says that he stopped taking his sleep medication.

Langer adds that the drugs are being misused and over-prescribed.

“I think doctors and patients need to be extremely cautious about using these drugs,” Langer says.

Doctors says this research shows sleeping pills should only be taken if nothing else works, and people need to talk to their doctors about potential dangers.

MORE NEWS: New Jersey Man Credits Keeping Mind Active As He Celebrates 105th Birthday

Bottom line: while this new research is somewhat alarming, we still don’t know what the connection is.

Stephanie Stahl