Researchers: sleeping pills can kill you

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DENVER -- If you’ve popped the occasional sleeping pill to help you get a good night’s rest…you’re not alone. About 10 percent of Americans say they’ve taken pills like Ambien before. But a new study links the use of those drugs to higher risks of early death and cancer.

Leanne Hukill has used Ambien for about two years.

“I have insomnia probably about five nights out of the week,” Hukill said.

Normally she wakes up and reads or does laundry, but those aren’t things she can do while on vacation, which is when the pills come in handy.

“It’s the one thing that you can count on when you really just have to have a good night’s sleep,” she said.

A study published this month in the journal, BMJ Open, found people who took 18 sleeping pills or fewer per year had a 3.5 times higher risk of death. For those who take more than 132 pills a year that number jumps to 5 times, and they’re at a 35 percent higher risk for cancer.

Denver family physician, Dr. Peter Hansen, isn’t a proponent of many sleeping pills, but he believes this study is very misleading.

“This is published on an open forum basically where it’s not peer reviewed,” Hansen said. “The author has been publishing for many, many years, is very against sleeping medication, and that bias shows through.”

He said this data reverses the cause and effect between sleeping pills and death and cancer. For example:

“If you take a group of people over 75, the people that are walking with canes – they might die earlier, but the cane doesn’t make them die!” he said.

He believes people like Leanne Hukill are using sleeping pills the right away and shouldn’t let this study scare them.

“Connecting the use of a sleeping medication with cancer is such a large jump that physiologically, scientifically, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s just a little more fear mongering.”