The Kerry Kennedy Ambien defense worked with the jury. The 54 year old daughter of Robert Kennedy was found not guilty today in her drugged-driving case, but the drug Ambien may not be off the hook. There is evidence of numerous cases of sleep walking, driving while impaired, and other dangerous behaviors while under the drug ambien have been reported in the media,but doctors continue to prescribe the powerful sleeping aid despite the widely acknowledged risks of taking the drug.
Defense attorneys repeatedly hammered home the point behind the Kerry Kennedy Ambien defense. Attorneys also charged that Kennedy would never have been charged with drugged driving if she wasn’t Kerry Kennedy, intimating that prosecutors didn’t want to cut Kennedy any slack for fear of being charged with favoritism by the media. The jury sided with the defense, finding that there was no intent to drive drugged.
The jury reportedly made its decision on the basis of the defendant’s intent. Under New York law, if there was no intent to use the drug to become intoxicated, there was no crime, but the case points out the hidden dangers of the popular sleeping potion. Nevertheless, the case points to serious health and public safety risks associated with the widespread use of the sleep medication.
The Kerry Kennedy Ambien defense claimed that she had taken the Ambien by mistake, thinking that she was taking her thyroid medication and did not realize that she was suffering from pharmaceutical inebriation until after the accident. She is not the only Kennedy to run into trouble on Ambien. Kennedy’s cousin, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, was cited for traffic violations stemming from an Ambien-fueled driving episode that ended when he smashed his car into one of the barricades surrounding the U.S. Capital.
In Patrick Kennedy’s case, the popular Rhode Island congressman admitted that he was addicted to pain medications, had been treated for that condition at the Mayo Clinic, and would return to the clinic for treatment of his sleeping pill addiction. Kennedy was not charged for driving under the influence and never appeared in court. The police gave Kennedy a ride home after the incident.
The differences in the ways the two cases were handled raises questions about selective enforcement. In the Kerry Kennedy Ambien there was physical damage resulting from her collision with another vehicle, but no injuries were reported. In Patrick Kennedy’s case, the only victim was a concrete barrier…but both cases could have been much worse.
Ambien is touted by the manufacturer as a non-habit forming alternative to barbiturate sleeping pills, and do not have a high abuse potential. Ambien sales increased to almost $2 billion by 2010 but the drug fell off the 200 top drug list when the generic version, Zolpidem, became available in 2011. In 2012, more than 39 million prescriptions were filled for the generic version of the drug. With a list price of $119 for a one month supply of the drug, Zolpidem takes in $4.6 billion annually, outselling both Percoset and prescription strength ibuprofen.
Ambien and Zolpidem have been responsible for sleepwalking incidents, violent altercations, numerous motor vehicle accidents. The drugs have also been implicated in an increasing number of prescription drug overdose deaths. Drug treatment specialists have alleged that the amnesic effect of the drug makes it easier for users to overdose because they forget they have taken it, and take repeated doses in order to get to sleep. When patients are using multiple drugs, taking an amnesic like Ambien makes it possible for a patient to re-take other drugs, sometimes several times, exceeding a lethal dose of those other medications.
Such mistakes are common in the U.S., where more than 36,000 accidental prescription drug overdose deaths occur annually, a number which includes suicide by drug overdose. That is a 50 percent increase over a ten-year period, a period that coincides with widespread use of Ambien.
The widespread adoption of Ambien reflects the increasing rate of insomnia among Americans, 10% of whom report frequent problems falling asleep and staying asleep. The pharmaceutical industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars promoting this drug through persistent advertising campaigns, which drive home the idea that everyone needs help getting to sleep.
There is an alternative, however. An increasing number of people are using Melatonin, a hormone made naturally by the human pineal gland, and L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, together to get to sleep naturally. Both are safe when used as directed, according to the WebMD website.
Patrick Kennedy got off with a warning. The Kerry Kennedy Ambien defense worked, but she had to go to the expense of defending herself in court over a two-year process. Kerry Kennedy might have been found not guilty, but Ambien might be and the jury is still out on that case.
By Alan M. Milner