The Ambien Defense

I’m typically skeptical about the various defense strategies some accused employ.  In my opinion, the insanity plea is overused, and the new affluenza claim leaves me speechless.

But the acquittal of Kerry Kennedy who took an Ambien and then got behind the wheel and crashed her SUV, gave me pause.  When the toxicology report showed the prescription sleep aid was in Kennedy’s system, she was charged with driving while impaired.  The prosecution argued that she knowingly took the Ambien and got behind the wheel.  She was on her way to the gym.

Now, doesn’t it seem far-fetched that anyone would intentionally take a sleeping pill and then go to the gym?  Unless you use your fitness facility for napping, that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I made the same mistake a few years ago and had no idea what I had done.  I was going through my usual morning routine, had my bowl of cereal, and took my vitamins and medications (for the record, the vitamins still outnumber the meds).  There was nothing unusual about that morning, and after breakfast I headed to work.

It wasn’t long before I started feeling odd.  As I drove, it quickly got worse.  Within a few minutes I had double vision.  I thought I was having some sort of medical episode.  I was scared, but continued driving because my office was not far and I knew the route.  I was not familiar with the options along the way for pulling off the road, and I was in morning traffic.  I thought I should stick with what I knew.  Keep in mind, I had no idea I had taken an Ambien.  The possibility of falling asleep at the wheel never crossed my mind.

When I got to work, folks noticed right off something was wrong.  I told them about my drive and that I was very dizzy.  Although I was able to speak and answer questions correctly, it was a struggle.  I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, and two coworkers drove me and my car home.  I slept until my neighbor took me to the appointment a couple hours later.  Everything checked out normal, and I was diagnosed with vertigo by way of ruling out everything else.  So basically, no answers whatsoever.  Not until a week later when I nearly made the same mistake.

I was opening my vitamin and prescription bottles one at a time when I put my beta blocker on the counter and it caught my eye.  Something was not quite right.  I took a closer look and saw it was an Ambien.  The two pills were both white, oval, and oh so close to being identical in size.  It hit me like a brick what had happened the week prior.  You can believe that bottle of Ambien was moved to its own separate space after that (and now no longer exists in my home at all).

The explanation gave me relief, but I also had that flood of gruesome fear-for-my-past when I realized how close I came to tragedy.  Thank God I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel and hurt myself or anyone else on my drive to work that day.

I used the Ambien only occasionally, and when I did, I went straight to bed.  How could I possibly have known what staying awake after taking one would feel like?  I’m not saying because it happened to me it’s ok.  It was a wake-up call to be more careful, more vigilant, with prescription meds.  But, I can certainly sympathize and understand how this can happen without intent and without malice.

The prosecution’s claim that Kennedy took the Ambien intentionally and that she should have immediately known what had happened is mad.  What would be the motive behind taking a sleeping pill and driving?  Obviously the jury empathized with Kennedy’s error and, in my opinion, did the right thing in acquitting her.

I’m sure we are not the only two people to have made this mistake.  The CDC reports that more than 8.5 million people use prescription sleep aids.  What if the pharmaceutical industry produced all sleep aids – and only sleep aids – in blue?  Sounds safer than leaving it to 8.5 million sleep-deprived people to sort it out.

Stay safe,