I am not a physician, physiatrist, pharmacist, nurse, medical researcher, employee or contractor of Sanofi U.S. (the manufacturer of Ambien), and I have no financial stake in either Ambien or its generic equivalent, Zolpidem. I will not receive any compensation for writing this post. I chose to write this post to describe the fascinating yet unintended consequence of taking one specific medication. There are known and unknown side effects associated with taking Ambien or Zolpidem. This post is not a recommendation or suggestion that a medication or treatment is guaranteed to work. It is up to you and your medical team to determine if Ambien, or any medication, is right for you.
Furthermore, I am not claiming Homer Simpson has a brain injury, is vegetative, or endorses any medication.
Although the reported number may differ depending on the source quoted and the factors included, there are approximately 300,000 people in the United States who are in a vegetative or minimally-conscious state due to a brain trauma caused by an accident, fall, illness, violence, or other adversity.
“Many families are told there is no hope because there is no treatment proven to speed up or improve recovery,” according to a Fox 6 WBRC article. However, the unintended side-effect of one medication is “opening the eyes of patients, doctors and researchers.”
According to an article published in the New York Times, the first reported case of “a zolpidem awakening came from South Africa, in 1999. A patient named Louis Viljoen, who, three years before, was declared vegetative after he was hit by a truck, had taken to clawing at his mattress during the night. Thinking he was suffering from insomnia, his family doctor suggested zolpidem to help him sleep. But 20 minutes after his mother ground the tablet up and fed it to him through a straw, Viljoen began to stir. His eyes, which normally wandered the room, vacant and unfocused, flickered with the light of consciousness. And then he began to talk (his first words were ‘Hello, Mummy’), and move (he could control his limbs and facial muscles). A few hours later he became unresponsive. But the next day, and for many days after that, zolpidem revived him, a few hours at a time.”
The Fox 6 WBCR article reminds us Ambien Awakenings, as they are sometimes called, are not a cure because the medication appears to work for only “1 in 15 patients” and after a few hours, “the drug wears off and the patients slip back into oblivion until the next dose.”
Prior to writing this post, I researched articles on the following websites: Fox 6 WBRC, Medscape, New York Times, PubMed, and Science Daily. Google helped me find the references listed above and the picture in this post. Matt Groening is the creative genius behind Homer Simpson and The Simpsons. I appreciate the assistance of all people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text in this post.