I don’t want to write this – – it’s personal, autobiographical, and personally damaging and I’m long since tired of that genre – I say this sincerely, this is not a gimmick I’m trotting out to justify memoir writing.
But I’m a journalist, and you find the best subject to tell a story. And if I’m not the best subject on this issue I’m a pretty damn good one.
Sleep, I always hated it, couldn’t fall asleep for most of my life. In college 1989 I was working three jobs and I was exhausted; went to the health store and got melatonin – – it did absolutely nothing.
I was on a reporting assignment in 1998 in a hotel. I read about this service called Hotel Docs; for 100 dollars a doctor would come to your room. I called him. Told him I’ve been drinking coffee all day, was hyped up, and asked him if could you give me a sleeping pill that would just put me right to sleep. He was incredulous, “You’re asking me for knock out drops, that doesn’t exist.” He was of course wrong; I find knock out drops (sleeping pills years later). I think he gave me Benadryl that night and I stared at the ceiling all night.
In 1999 I finally got insurance. Went to a psychiatrist, said I couldn’t sleep, it was interfering with my job drastically. He gave me an anti-depressant, said that would do the trick, treat my depression (he said that’s why I had trouble sleeping) and would also put me to sleep. It did neither.
Finally I went to a doctor and got Ambien, the dosage was one pill – – it did nothing. I experimented, 4 Ambien put me to sleep. I went to the doctor and he said no way can I give you 4 Ambien; try these medications instead: he put me on for 2 to 4 weeks respectively Trazedone, Ativan, Depakote, Elavil, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, antihistamines, atypical antipsychotics (they all wore torture), Restoril, Remeron (horrible hallucinations – which caused me to sleep walk black out and roam the streets and for some reason I ripped metal mailboxes off an apartment lobby. A pharmacist I went to asking him to fill a dosage of 4 Ambien said I would never would wake up, die if I took that many (ridiculously untrue).
So this psychiatrist who I paid 200 dollars a session ( I couldn’t get a psychiatrist to treat me for sleep problems, I called every doctor on my insurance list; it wasn’t apparently worth it for them). He finally wrote a letter to my insurance company and administered regular blood and urine tests – he prescribed 4 a night and I was fine, the Ambien had no negative effect on my body.
This was 1999, there was no warning label on Ambien. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night eating with no memory; I drove my car under the influence, not realizing it (miraculously didn’t crash); sent incoherent e-mails I had no memory of. Didn’t dare tell my doctor for fear he would take me off it and I needed to sleep to function at work.
After a while, I started getting dressed in the middle of the night and walking the streets. I got picked up 3 or 4 times by ambulances apparently and woke up in emergency rooms. I pulled the IVs out and left; the ER doctors refused to believe I was just on Ambien. It got so bad and so dangerous I decided to buy handcuffs and cuff myself while I was sleeping. No army/navy police supply store would sell them to me without a police or security ID; I finally found one place in the Bronx who sold them to me if I paid cash. Now every night I handcuff myself to my bed post and my partner unlocks me in the morning.
Four Ambien doesn’t put me to sleep now; I’m not an addict, not looking to get high or hurt myself but I have to take 12 to 16 ten milligram Ambien to put me asleep for 8 hours and I wake up completely refreshed and rested. This is not quite tolerance, I plateaued at that level for many years, never had to take more.
New York State just changed their drug regulations regarding Ambien. You used to be able to go to doctor X, doctor Y, doctor Z and get separate Ambien prescriptions and go to different pharmacies to fill them. Now the doctor and pharmacists check your date of birth and know if you you’re getting multiple prescriptions and won’t fill them. So now I get 60 pills a month and it’s back to staring at the ceiling.
I’m also a veteran. I went to the VA psychiatrist who I’ve been seeing for about six years getting Ambien. Last time I saw him, he says he wants to take me off Ambien, says I might have sleep apnea (I told him repeatedly I was tested for this and don’t). He doesn’t care. He writes me a prescription to get a pulmonary test. Why? I ask? No good answer. Of course I don’t go and never see him again, which I presume is what he wants.
Ambien is a dangerous drug for someone not restrained during the night – – it should be taken off the market and it will be someday. There are too many crimes and accidents associated with it. People flipping out on Ambien on airplanes, initiating unwanted sex with partners, stripping nude and walking the streets, driving under the influence, defecating and urinating during sleep, going to work intoxicated because the Ambien hasn’t worn off.
Insomnia is a serious problem, So many reporting jobs I screwed up because I couldn’t sleep all night and when I went on the assignment the next day I was spaced out, out of it, wanted nothing more than to go home and go to sleep.
59 million sleeping pills were prescribed in 2012. Doctors, medical researchers need to address this issue. Ambien is a problem; there needs to be a better, safer sleeping pill on the market. Otherwise you’ll have desperate people taking 18 Benadryl at night. And as recent studies have shown treating insomnia greatly aids in treating depression.
Will anybody do anything. You’ve got a man sleeping in handcuffs for god’s sake docs.
Oh, PS —on Reddit comment after comment couldn’t give a damn about the content of this post — they repeatedly bashed my grammar, questioned my journalism ability. Reddit you were the same journalists who went after the Boston bomber claiming he was a missing college student.
And no offense, no bravado, seriously, I’m pretty secure in my journalism — no exaggeration I received so many awards and accolades for my journalism I have no doubt I could destroy you, humiliate you, make you look like a stupid amateur if we went head to head exchanging essays. Try it, use your real name and let’s go, we’ll post our pieces online for the public to decide. I hate to have to say this, go there — but you people are too damn bitter, defensive, insecure. Ambien is destroying people’s lives and you care about grammar?! People like you ruin the internet; grow up and stop hating, you’re not in 7th grade. Act like a Mensch — it’s easier to destroy than create. Have a conscience and stop being so damn defensive and combative.
Love, Kevin Heldman