A new study by American scientists has shown that sleeping pills used by thousands of people in the UK are linked with an increased risk of death.
The study, published in BMJ Open, compared more than 10,000 patients taking sleeping tablets with 23,000 patients not taking these drugs.
Sleeping pills are linked to higher risk of death
Researchers from the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventative Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California looked at a wide range of sleeping pills, including those regularly used in the UK.
They found that people prescribed sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely to die during a 2.5 year period compared to those not on the drugs.
People taking higher doses of temazepam pills, which were dispensed 2.8m times in England in 2010, were six times more likely to die in the next two-and-a-half years.
For the drug zolpidem, which was prescribed 733,000 times in England in 2010, the risk of death was 5.7 times higher for those taking them most frequently.
Overall, one in every 16 patients in the sleeping pill group died (638 out of 10,531 in total) compared to one in every 80 of the non-users (295 deaths out of 23,674 patients).
This increased risk was irrespective of other underlying health conditions, such as heart and lung diseases, and other factors like smoking and alcohol use.
The study also showed that those taking the highest doses of sleeping pills are at greater risk of developing cancer.
However, experts say that while findings highlight a potential risk, the proof of harm is still lacking, and patients with or without private medical insurance should talk to their doctor if they are worried.
Malcolm Lader, professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "The study needs to be replicated in a different sample and I think we need to hold judgement until we have further studies.”
"People should discuss this with their GP but should not under any circumstances stop taking their medication."
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012