Imagine the surprise of the many people charged with the crime of driving under the influence of Ambien, when they took the medication long before they drove and assumed it was out of their system. A new announcement today from the FDA demonstrates that these drivers may have indeed been innocent all along. The announcement warns that dosages of Zolpidem containing products like Ambien should be lowered because the drug stays in the system longer than previously disclosed by the manufacturer. The FDA also took the opportunity to point out that Ambien like drugs can affect the ability to drive the morning after use.

The typical case where someone is charged for DUI while on Ambien results from a minor accident and the officer calls for a blood test. When the blood test comes back high for Zoldipem, the law enforcement assumption has been that the person knowing took the substance and then drove under the influence of it. This FDA announcement shows that even the FDA was unaware that zoldipem could remain in the blood at high levels for a long period of time.

Not surprisingly, the long term effects from zoldipen are more pronounced with the sustained-release forms of the drug. Interestingly, it appears women are more susceptible than men to have the medication remain in their system for prolonged periods.
According to the FDA, the revised dose of zolpidem for women should be lessened from 10 mg to 5 mg for standard-release products (Ambien, Edluar, and Zolpimist) and from 12.5 mg to 6.25 mg for time-release versions (Ambien CR).

The FDA is advising doctors to instruct all their patients on the risks of these sleep aid drugs and the impairment of abilities like driving. Patients should also be told that drug may still be in their system when they feel totally awake. This all the more shows the innocence of persons charged with driving under the influence. Further investigation by the FDA is underway to examine the effects of other sleep medications on mental alertness, including over the counter sleep aid products. It remains to be seen whether criminal defense attorneys will be able to use these findings to help exonerate their wrongfully charged clients.

M. Robert Blanchard is a former prosecuting attorney, trial lawyer and writer living in Gulf Breeze, FL.