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Ambien users wake up, smell the lawsuits

ambien lawsuits

Janet Makinen, a Florida housewife, was prescribed Ambien in 1998 for insomnia. About two weeks later, she began walking in her sleep to her kitchen and devouring food.

It didn’t matter what kind of food, either. Makinen, 55, of Dade City, Fla., wolfed down raw eggs, uncooked rice, cans of vegetables, loaves of bread, and bags of chips and candy.

An hour after her binge-eating, she’d wake up vomiting.

Makinen gained so much weight from the nocturnal feedings that she ballooned from a size 1 to a size 12. She still suffers from stomach problems, including an ulcer.

She stopped taking Ambien in 2005. And now she’s suing Sanofi-Aventis, the manufacturer of the popular prescription sleeping medication.

A class-action suit filed March 6 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York claims that Ambien caused Makinen and hundreds of other users to enter into trance-like states in which they drove cars, binged on food and engaged in other activities they have no memory of.

The suit accuses Sanofi-Aventis of inadequately warning users of the dangers of amnesic sleep-eating, sleepwalking and sleep-driving.

New York attorney Susan Chana Lask, who filed the suit, said that in addition to damages, she wants the manufacturer to provide stronger warnings about Ambien’s potential dangers.

As of March 22, about 500 other plaintiffs had joined the suit.

Ambien was introduced to the market in 1993, but its sales have soared in the past few years — due mainly to an intensive consumer advertising campaign.

Last year, an estimated 26.5 million prescriptions were dispensed for Ambien — more than double the number written in 2001 — making it the nation’s best-selling prescription sleeping pill.

Lask said she first heard about the phenomenon of amnesic sleep-eating in an e-mail from Makinen.

“I thought it was just crazy,” Lask recalled. “Who sleep-eats?”

But she mentioned the e-mail to her legal assistant, who said that she, too, had done some somnambulistic food-foraging.

That’s when Lask began researching the possible side effects of Ambien, which turn out to include sleep-eating, sleepwalking and sleep-driving.

She discovered bizarre behavior is not uncommon: “They cook full meals, but they’re disgusting meals. They’re like zombies. They’re just shoving things in their mouths. It’s this carnal thing.”

And the strange behavior that some users exhibit in their sleepwalking states occasionally even lands them in jail — much to their surprise, since amnesia is another documented side effect.

Other plaintiffs named in the class-action suit include:

Judith Renee Lasswell, a Navy lieutenant in Florida who was arrested for shoplifting DVDs and a candle from her naval base. She does not recall the alleged thefts.

Her security clearance has been revoked, and she faces larceny charges and dishonorable discharge from the Navy.

Christina Brothers, a financial analyst who was prescribed Ambien for insomnia in May 2005. After three days of taking her prescribed dose, she woke up on the concrete floor of a jail cell. Brothers learned from a police report that she got out of bed around 6 a.m., left her house, drove her mother’s car into a parked vehicle, left the scene and ran into another vehicle. She left that scene as well, returned home, had a chat with her mother and was arrested in her bedroom later that morning.
She remembers neither the accident, nor anything else from the morning of her arrest.

Kathleen Callahan, a New York lab technician who claims there were mornings when she found her refrigerator door open, crumbs on the floor, chocolate icing on her hands and a ring of chocolate around her mouth. One morning she woke up in bed with her hands in a potato chip box.

Callahan also alleges she was twice sexually assaulted by a neighbor while in a sleepwalking state.

One New York pharmaceutical defense lawyer specializing in class actions, who asked not to be named, said he thinks it is unlikely the New York case will proceed as a class action, because physicians receive information about a medication from many different sources and it could be difficult to isolate the communications physicians had with the manufacturer.

Following the recent news reports, Sanofi-Aventis issued a statement saying that sleepwalking occurs in about 4 percent of the adult population, and that while “events of sleepwalking have occurred during treatment with Ambien, these instances cannot be systemically linked to the product.”

It also said that a recent company analysis concluded that the current prescribing information is accurate: “Somnambulism is a possible rare adverse event.”

The manufacturer also reminded users that Ambien should only be taken when the user can have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, and that it should never be taken with alcohol.

The Food and Drug Administration says the drug’s current warnings are adequate.

David Benjamin, a toxicologist in Newton, Mass., said that while the strange side effects of Ambien are very believable, a product liability suit against the manufacturer faces an uphill challenge.

“The warnings say take the drug while you’re in bed, and don’t take it while you’re driving,” he noted.

That could make it difficult to prove a “failure to warn” claim, according to Benjamin.

The New York pharmaceutical defense lawyer suggested that Sanofi-Aventis’ possible liability for its warnings about the risk of sleepwalking may hinge on whether the company had documented the risk of Ambien-caused sleepwalking, and withheld it from physicians and consumers.

Benjamin also said that Ambien-impaired individuals arrested for criminal behavior could argue a “lack of intent,” claiming they had no intent to drive a car or engage in illegal activity.

On The Road Again

Attorneys who specialize in drunk-driving cases are already running into Ambien cases.

William Head, an attorney in Atlanta who specializes in DUI defense, has defended several drivers who landed in jail after sleep-driving episodes.

“You’re seeing people with not one blemish on their driving history suddenly charged with a series of ridiculous driving situations,” he said. “They don’t know they’re driving.”

Head recently defended a man in Decatur, Ga., who had several drinks and took two Ambien. The last thing he remembers is watching David Letterman on television.

He was arrested on multiple driving charges, including driving on the wrong side of the road. But a judge was unconvinced that Ambien was the cause of the man’s bizarre behavior, since he had also consumed alcohol. As a result, Head’s client was convicted of driving under the influence.

In a new case, Head is representing a Florida businessman who took Ambien but hadn’t consumed any alcohol or other medications. When Fulton County, Ga. police pulled him over for erratic driving, the man’s pants were down around his ankles.

“He took it [Ambien] in the morning,” Head said. “The next thing, he’s driving in the broad daylight with his pants down.”

Head said he plans on arguing the case before a jury, which he hopes to educate about the risk of sleep-driving while using Ambien.

“The key to me in these cases is if the person taking the medication had no prior episodes of sleepwalking or sleep-driving, then that’s a very good case,” Head said.

“Because [Ambien’s] packaging materials in no way indicate the symptoms of getting behind the wheel and not knowing you’re there.”

There has also been at least one Ambien-related airline arrest.

Sean Joyce, a British painting contractor, was on a flight from Charlotte, N.C. to London last July. He had taken an Ambien pill and drunk several glasses of wine when he got up, grabbed a young woman sitting next to him, started yelling and ripped his shirt off.

Joyce reportedly threatened to kill himself and everyone on the plane. He was handcuffed and the plane was diverted to Boston.

“He woke up in a jail cell in East Boston with absolutely no memory of what happened,” said Michael C. Andrews, an attorney in Boston who defended Joyce.

Andrews convinced federal authorities that Joyce’s aggressive behavior and amnesia were caused by Ambien.

Under a plea agreement, Joyce was sentenced to the five days he had already served.

Twilight Zone

Benjamin, the Massachusetts toxicologist, likened the bizarre effects of Ambien in certain individuals to those of benzodiazepines, such as Halcion and Xanax.

“Somehow, they affect the brain adversely and people have this dissociative reaction where they do weird things that they don’t remember,” he said.

“We’ve known about these types of effects for date-rape drugs,” he said. “This is a very, very similar reaction.”

Ambien is classified as a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic.

William R. Johnson, a chemist at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, who studied Ambien-impaired drivers in Wisconsin over a six-year period, said it’s not clear why Ambien causes sleepwalking in some users. But he theorized that they may partially awaken after four or five hours of sleep.

“When you get beyond that four-hour period, in some people the medication loses some of its effect and it allows them to become semi-awake, but not conscious,” he said.

Sanofi-Aventis has recently released a timed-release sleeping pill, AmbienCR, aimed at maintaining a full eight hours of sleep.

Life In The Slow Lane

Many states don’t test for Ambien when making impaired-driving arrests. But in some state toxicology labs, Ambien is among the top 10 drugs found in impaired drivers.

The Wisconsin study identified Ambien in the bloodstreams of 187 drivers arrested from 1999 through 2004. More than half of the Ambien-impaired drivers also tested positive for alcohol, and nearly half tested positive for other drugs, including benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin.

In 21 cases where Ambien was the only drug found, driving behavior ranged from hitting light poles to running over curbs to driving in the wrong lane.

The main characteristic of Ambien-impaired drivers was that they drove well below the speed limit and kept driving until they hit something, according to Johnson.

“The slow speed was very common, and essentially driving until you couldn’t drive anymore. They tended to run into a stationary object, like a light pole or parked car,” he said.

In five cases in which no alcohol or other drugs were found, Johnson said, police reported that the Ambien-impaired drivers shared the same zombie-like characteristics.

“They seemed very much disoriented; their eyes wouldn’t focus on individuals,” he said. “They would just look right through a person.”

This article originally appeared in Lawyers Weekly USA, a sister publication of Wisconsin Law Journal.


  1. I also drove while on ambien. Worst of all, I sent insulting emails to my supervisor and workmates. I lost my job and now I can’t find any jobs. I insulted my family. I spent my retirement money. Terrible results of taking this poison. Stay away from it. Don’t even try one pill. Doctor’s don’t tell you how dangerous this medication can be. Some people may take it and think it is safe, but at any time it will change your life for the worst. It lowers you inhibition, worse that if you were completely drunk, and you will not remember what you did.

  2. I am shocked that a drug is on the market which allows people to drive unconscious and amnesia tic. Not only can one hurt themselves but others. I had one pill of ambian with no symptoms then got 8n my car and drove 30 miles in a sleep-consciois state and ran through a red light .went around other cars in a turning lane just so I could continue driving, and plowed into the rear two wheels of a large trailer truck without braking. If i had not hit tires i would have gone under the trailer and been decapitated. I am so angry i was jeopardized and hurt like that while endangering other people. Does anyone know how/who i can seek out to file a lawsuit? This med should not be on the market!!!

  3. Brian M Cavanaugh

    Hi . I was prescribed Ambian when I was unable to sleep after my brother passed away from problems he had as a first response fireman from the Syracuse NY fireman Dept. I ran a hot bath and the next thing I clearly remember was a Police man walking me Into my apartment. When. I went to court,I received 1 yr in Jamesvll Pennatentuary of wich I served 8 months.

  4. I was prescribed ambian over two years ago, I had no idea that you’re not supposed to take it for that long. Last Monday evening 10/14/19 I took my ambian went to sleep, shortly after I went to sleep I got up grabbed my keys and nothing else. I got I’m my car, drove down the road and hit another car. I woke up in the ER the next morning with no memory at all.

  5. I’m going through withdrawal now. I stopped Zolpidem October 23,2019. Memory and tremor issues. Having almost no sleep in a week now. Headaches and delirium and the doctor admitting to me that I was addicted made me stop. He then gave me another prescription. I don’t drink or smoke or do illegal drugs so my issue is with Zolpidem. Let me know if I can help with info for legal action.

  6. In reponse to George Burkardt’s post. How do we reach you for your help with “info for legal action?

  7. Martin Scott Peroyea

    While on Ambien I sleep walked opening a window pushing through a screen climbed onto a 3 story roof and then jumped off breaking my back by shattering my L3. I now have a Titanium L3 spacer and 2 Titanium support rods. I still experience pain and numbness to this day.

  8. I am a defender of ambien
    I would like to be a witness patient who supports Ambien
    Em me at
    Kaner [email protected]
    I live in Napa

  9. I took ambien for 10 years straight! I did it because my doctor allowed and didn’t seem to have a problem with it. This past March I took ambien and went to bed. I woke up in jail. According to the police report I drove and hit a tree. Now I have DWI charges. I have a clean driving record and no criminal history. I to would like information on how to take legal action. Thank you.

  10. I take Ambien at night. I was told that I gave my check card and pin to someone. I noticed that within 3 weeks 13,000.00 were withdrawn from my account. All after 10 PM to 6 AM. I contacted the card made a fraud report, They then told me that the withdraws were done with a pin and I do not recall giving my pin number out. Is there something that I can do? It was my disability back pay. I am so hurt to think that a drug could make me do such a crazy thing. Someone please help me.

  11. I was prescribed ambien 22 mg a day when I was 28 years old, in 1999.
    The commercials back then said that it was non addictive.
    I have never been addicted to anything in my life before ambien.
    The company that makes ambien lied in their advertisment because I was addicted to this horrible medicine for over 10 years.
    I was prescribed 25 mg a night for those 10 or so years.
    Being addicted to this medicine was bad enough but having to live with not having a memory for those 10 years is much worse. I am missing most memories of my 3 children growing up and the things they remember me doing is horrifying
    In addition to what my family saw happening to me because of the drug for no known reason I had to have knee surgery on both my knees for torn meniscus and both my hands had to have surgery. I had to have my neck fused for no know reason that I can remember, but I am certain it was from taking this drug and doing things and injuring myself with no memory of what I did.
    I feel very strong that this company lied and should pay for their lies.

  12. I have been prescribed Ambien for the past 10 years by my physician for insominia. There were many times when I would awake in the morning and notice that I had been up durning the night cooking, eating, and oftetimes driving my vehicle. My husband would tell me that I was up sleep walking during the night doing all sorts of things that I normally would not be doing in the middle of the night and that he would concerned about my health and welfare. On 7/13/2018 I was on my way to a visit with friends around 6:00p.m whe I feel asleep behind the wheel and ended up in the hospital. When I woke up I was in the hospital and had no idea what had happen or why I was there. An officer standing at my bedside told me that I feel asleep behind the wheel and ran into two parked cars. He said that I was still unconscience at the time the parametics arrived and took me to the hospital and that I was just gaining consciousness. I did not remember anything? What happened? or how it happened?. The officer asked me if I knew my name and where I was at the time? I replyed yes. I was treated by the medical staff and left the hospital shortly thereafter.

  13. Yes . Say no to Zolpidem , Yes to pulling an all nighter. Ambien does , can and did KILL my wife .

    She finally got relief from somatic pain which was refractory and unbearable

  14. I took Ambien for more than 15 years every night. Seventeen months ago I had an unexpected seizure while working and spent two weeks in the hospital as the doctors tried to figure out why it occurred. The absolute first thing they did was prohibit me from ever taking Ambien again as they thought contributed to my rare disease AUTOIMMUNE ENCEPHALITIS.

    I I have not been able to return to work and had to give up my home and stay with family around the country. I worked in the film and television industry as an actor, producer and in international film distribution.

    I’ve spoken to other firms that “said” they handled AMBIEN cases and then they said they no longer pursue them. My belief is they were paid off by the company that produces and distributes AMBIEN .

  15. I was prescribed ambien fin 2012 by the military. Unbeknownst to me, I drove and received a DWI. I had no idea it would cause people to wake up And basically sleepwalk. I still have bo recollection of that night. I never took ambien again. As much as a DWI caused major issues in my life I still thank god today that I didn’t hurt or injure someone by driving.

  16. I sleep shop and sleep drive on ambien. I have memory loss from ambien. I have been takin low dose of ambien since 2016… is now 2021. I have lost weeks on ambien and thats with taking only one pill every other night.

  17. Hello. I’ve had severe withdrawal symptoms from Ambien. I was so anxious that I was hospitalized. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. It’s been over a year and I still cannot fall asleep without some help of medication. The rebound insomnia is so bad. I have memory loss now. I also ate a lot when I was on it. It should be banned!

  18. I have one of the most horrific zolpidem stories. My case is still active so I can only state what was in the paper and some of my discovery. I am facing deliberate attempt homicide to my 7 yr old son. He was 6 at the time. In my discovery I took my zolpidem and then gave 2 pills to my son. I have 5 adult children, I’ve been on zolpidem for 16 yrs, due to nightmares after my sister was murdered. Yes my children told me that I slept walked and ate and drank alcohol. I did drink that day, my blood alcohol was .05%. They never tested my blood for the zolpidem. They tested my sons and his wasnlike 100/1000ng. I think. Anyway the ER report stated a young male non abused non neglected child with on point development for a boy his age. My oldest children called the police because mybson was throwing up and hallucinating. When he hot to the ER he was sleepy but was fine. I on the other hand remember NOTHING, and that is so scary. Well CPS took my child away and he placed with my daughter. Its been over a yr. My trial is in April 2022. I have no previous CPS cases, I have a career, which I am still working gull time, I have a home and I ger my son from Sunday to Wednesday morning. I need help, I would never hurt my child nor myself. I am facing 15 to life. My son is gone, with no side effects, and all he wants is to he home with me. Please help me. I do have a lawyer, but now I need a family lawyer cause CPS contacted the non custodial father who my son never knew about or seen. He is a sexual abuser and physical abuser to his other children. So I have protected my child from him, plus he wanted nothing to do with my son. And now he is here in the same state and town as me, and my son is being forced to have supervised visitation with him, which my son hates. This man knows nothing of my son and he is trying to get full custody of my son. I have done everything CPS has requested of me, and I am sober and off of the zolpidem which I feel amazing . Finally clear headed. This man can not get my child cause he will kill him, I know he will. But CPS and the state won’t listen to me, even hearing facts from his other boys and seeing the police reports. But because he is the non affending parent, they want to give my child to him. Please I am begging for help immediately!!!! God Bless. And I need to sue the pharmaceutical. Cause this is not who I am. It turned me into a monster. And that I am not.

  19. how do I join the lawsuit. my Dr kept me on it for over 5 years. I now have memory issues. I am.located in Missouri

  20. severe accident from ambien

  21. I am a Documentary Producer currently researching for a podcast on Ambien and its sleepwalking side effects. I am looking to gain statements/interviews with as many people as possible who have experienced dangerous or damaging behaviour after taking the drug- [email protected]

  22. I have been prescribed ambien off and on for over 20 years. I will do great on it, then bomb! I just start acting erratically, and doing things I would never do while awake! You are definitely sleep walking. But, when that starts happening I can lay down over and over again, I still get up and do crazy things! I believe this drug should be taken off the market! It is dangerous, bc you never know how it is going to effect you! It is extremely scary and embarrassing!

  23. Yepper, sleepwalking, sleep-driving with a child! Accidents, the damage is done to other vehicles, stop signs and loss of license, jailtime, record, etc etc etc…Child is emotionally injured, loss of friends and family as well.

  24. I have a legal problem right now please contact me 740 755 5179

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