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Staring into the Dark

Research investigates insomnia drugs

When a groggy reporter complaining of difficulties falling asleep recently visited a doctor in Washington, D.C., the physician's quick solution was to offer her a free sample of a drug called Rozerem (ramelteon). "What do you know about the drug?" the reporter queried, as reporters are apt to do. Noting that the medicine had been approved only a few months earlier, the doctor confessed to knowing next to nothing about it.

Since 2000, prescriptions for sleeping pills have increased in all age groups, nearly doubling for children and young adults. Last year, doctors across the country doled out millions of scripts for Ambien (zolpidem) and its relatives in the group known as hypnotic drugs. Doctors also prescribed unofficial sleep aids, including antidepressants and anti-epileptic drugs, to slumber-deprived patients.

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