by Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Emergency room visits tied to popular sleep aids are skyrocketing, according to a new government report. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more.

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An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Millions turn to prescription medications for help, but a new study shows some of these drugs are now linked to a dramatic rise in emergency room visits.

Ambien is one of the most popular sleep medications for people with insomnia. Now a new government report is linking the medication to an increase in visits to the Emergency Room.

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“A significant increase in the percent, in the number of people coming in to emergency rooms with some impairment related to Ambien or Zolpidem,” said Dr. Karl Doghrmaji, Director of Jefferson’s Sleep Center.

He says the report shows adverse reactions to the active ingredient Zolpidem, found in Ambien and other sleep aids, rose almost 220 percent between 2005 and 2010.

“Daytime sedation, possibly falls, possibly thinking abnormalities. Possibly a memory deterioration, possibly depression and mood changes,” said Dr. Doghramji.

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Of the adverse reactions to Zolpidem that led to ER visits, 68 percent were females, 74 percent were over 45-years-old, and 50 percent of the people were also taking other prescription drugs.

Dr. Doghramji says these prescription sleep aids are safe and effective, but patients need to be careful.

“They should be taken responsibly, cautiously and under medical direction. And if done so, the risks associated with them are very, very low,” said Dr. Doghramji.

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Doctors say it’s best to take the smallest dose possible, for the shortest amount of time.

Studies have shown sleeps aids can stay in the body longer for women and the elderly, which may contribute to adverse reactions.

In January, the FDA required makers of these drugs to cut the recommended dose in half for women, and suggested reducing the dose for men as well.

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Link: Zolpidem Emergency Room Visits Report

Stephanie Stahl