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Ambien Zombies

A FOX 11 News investigative report.

Updated: Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010, 10:56 PM PST
Published : Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010, 10:56 PM PST


Posted by: Scott Coppersmith /

An estimated 70-million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, and many turn to prescription drugs for relief. Controversy is mounting over the most popular prescription sleeping aid, Ambien. More and more users claim they're sleepwalking or blacking out while driving... sometimes with fatal results.

Brian Petitpren, a successful young businessman, was taking Ambien to help him sleep. His father says he just walked off the roof of a building while sleepwalking.

John Petitpren:
"He walked up the inside staircase to the roof of the building.... and then he just walked off the end of the building. This young man had so much life in him and so much life ahead of him. It was just snuffed out. It ended up flat on the roof of a building."

Linda Fuller, a mother of six, found herself charged with a DUI and hit-and-run after hitting a fire hydrant in an apparent sleep-driving stupor. This was just three nights she started taking Ambien.

Linda Fuller:
"The next thing I remember, I'm coming home from the police station. It is frightening and it's really hard to believe."

Orange County attorney James Crawford says his a client of his spun out of control on an airplane after taking "sleepman tablets"... another name for ambien... prescribed to him in Hong Kong.

James Crawford:
"He started screaming for his wife and breaking out the plane window. They ended up handcuffing and duct-taping him to him to hold him down."

Attorney Susan Chana Lask calls them all "Ambien zombies."

Susan Chana Lask:
"I just saw this as Ambien zombies. It was horrific for me to see people walking around like 'Night of the Living Dead' out there. My own fear was that I'd hate to run into them while I'm driving down the street."

Lask filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Ambien users. She withdrew it after the FDA ordered stronger label warnings for the drug.

Lask is now writing a book about Ambien.

Susan Chana Lask:
"It's a billion dollar business. It ruins people's lives."

On YouTube, you'll find videos by "Ambien trippers"... people filming their ambien antics and chronicling bizarre behavior.

While millions take Ambien without reporting any negative side effects at all, even the company that makes it says it's not for everyone.

A spokeswoman for Sanofi-Aventis, the French drug company that makes Ambien, tells FOX 11 that the company is committed to patient health and safety and treats these matters with the "highest degree of importance."

She adds that the company is aware that sleepwalking or driving while not fully awake may occur and cautions that alcohol may increase these behaviors."

Although Brian Petitpren and James Crawford's client had consumed modest amounts of alcohol, Linda Fuller says she was charged with a DUI even though she doesn't drink.

Amy McDonald, Linda's Attorney:
"She was basically a victim of Ambien."

David Mayen:
"We are literally one nation under sedation. Americans consumed 4.5 billion dollars worth of sedative hypnotics or sleep meds in 2009 alone."

David Mayen is the program director for Sleep Recovery Centers, which treat insomniacs with neuro-feedback instead of pills.

David Mayen:
"Here we have a seamless process that allows people to get off those medications, but still be able to maintain a better quality sleep then when they were on them."

Irene Lara Gutierrez turned to neuro-feedback after bottoming out with Ambien.

Irene Lara Gutierrez:
"I felt always submerged, below water, like I really couldn't get up."

She says now she's getting relief.

Irene Lara Gutierrez:
"I sleep through the night."

Dr. David Dubin, medical director of Sleep Recovery Centers, says neuro-feedback helps about two-thirds of his sleep-deprived patients by training the brain to run more efficiently.

Dr. David Dubin:
"There's nothing more holistic than the brain returning to optimum function without having to ingest anything external."

John Petitpren says he wishes more doctors would be less quick to dole out Ambien. He says the loss of his son has given him plenty of sleepless nights.

Despite the tougher warnings, he says it won't make it right.

John Petitpren:
"How many more lives have to be so dramatically affected before something is done?"

Linda Fuller was found not guilty on both her DUI and hit-and-run charges, but attorney James Crawford's client was convicted of a felony for interfering with a flight attendant.

Another symptom of ambien zombies... sleep-eating... something to be aware of if you plan to the drug.

Contacts & Information:

Susan Chana Lask
Attorney & Author
244 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2369
New York, NY 10001

James Crawford

Amy McDonald

Sleep Recovery Centers, LLC

Manufacturer of Ambien

Food & Drug Administration (FDA) MedWatch
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD

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James M. Crawford
528 N. Glassell

Orange, CA 92867

164 East 3rd Street
San Bernardino, CA 92410

Tel:: (714) 288-0180
Fax: (714) 288-0998