Prescription sleep aids can be a lifesaver for anyone battling insomnia, but did you know these drugs can also be extremely addictive? And a team of toxicologists from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in London are now warning that one potentially dangerous prescription sleeping pill is easier than ever to buy online.
Not Your Typical Night’s Sleep
Zopiclone tablets, also called “Z drugs,” are used to treat cases of insomnia. The pills are generally meant to be used for short periods of time - not longer than a few weeks.
The hypnotic drugs depress the central nervous system, helping people fall asleep much faster and remain sleeping throughout the night. Common side effects include feeling drowsy, dizzy, lightheaded or unsteady. In some cases, people have reported hallucinating, feeling confused or even developing suicidal thoughts.
If used longer than two to four weeks, however, these Z drugs can be very addictive, according to the recently published toxicology report.
The Increasing Abuse of Z Drugs
The use of Z drugs (brand names Zimovane and Imovane) seems to be on the rise. Between 2013 and 2014, zopiclone was the sixth most common drug people inquired about, according to the UK National Poisons Information Service’s online database, TOXBASE.
Because of concerns about dependence and potential for misuse, Zopiclone was recently classified as a controlled drug, meaning it now requires a prescription for purchase. Those who sell the drug without a doctor's prescription can be severely penalized.
However, the drugs are still widely available online without a prescription. In fact, with only a quick search, the authors found zopiclone up for grabs on at least 70 different websites.
The Dangers Hit Home
Researchers treated a patient who had overdosed of 100 tablets of 7.5mg zopiclone, a stash that was purchased from an internet site without a prescription. This prompted them to conduct an online investigation, and they found 37 websites that were selling the tablets in quantities of up to 2000. And 35 more sites were selling similar sleeping medications, some of them offering discounts for bulk purchases.
"Not only do these websites bypass necessary oversight required for supply, they provide access for vulnerable people who may buy it for self poisoning, suicide, or misuse," the authors wrote. They also urged regulatory authorities “to ensure that appropriate measures are taken so that these websites comply with medicines and other regulations for the supply of this prescription only medicine.”