Sharp increase in use of prescription sleep aids by young adults

Use of prescription sleep aids nearly tripled among 18- to 24-year-olds between 1998 and 2006, according to a study released today by the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters.

During the study period, the average length of time sleep aids were used by adults under age 45 increased more than 40 percent -- rising from 64 days in 1998 to 93 days in 2006.

"Insomnia, a condition traditionally associated with older adults, appears to be causing larger numbers of young adults to turn to prescription sleep aids, and to depend on them for longer periods of time," said William Marder, PhD, senior vice president and general manager for the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters.

The study is based on medical and drug claims data from the Thomson Reuters MarketScan(R) Research Databases. Results were weighted to reflect the U.S. population with employer-sponsored health insurance.

Researchers found a 50-percent increase in the use of prescription sleep aids among all adults under age 45 from 1998 to 2006. The most dramatic increase was seen in the youngest segment of the study population, those between the ages of 18 and 24, whose prevalence of use increased from 599 users per 100,000 in 1998 to 1,524 users per 100,000 in 2006. For those 25 to 34 years of age, use almost doubled from 1,372 users to 2,528 users per 100,000.

Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics -- such as Ambien CR and Lunesta -- accounted for almost two-thirds of all the prescription sleep aids used by this population.

A number of psychiatric, cognitive and conditioning factors are known to perpetuate insomnia, and the study found that 25 percent of first-time sleep aid users had a mental heath diagnosis in the month prior to sleep aid use. However, fewer than 10 percent of these new users visited a mental health professional prior to initiating sleep aid use. Most prescriptions were provided by family-practice physicians, acute care hospitals and doctors specializing in internal medicine and obstetrics/gynecology.

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