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CNN : Lask Saves Ambien Zombies

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CNN  PAULA ZAHN NOW

Popular Sleeping Pill May Cause Problems

Aired March 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET


In tonight's "Vital Signs," we dig deeper into an amazing story we reported on earlier this week. I am going to introduce you now to a woman who has quite a story of her own to tell. Her name is Janet Makinen. And she's part of a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against the maker of Ambien, the most popular sleeping pill in the country right now.

Makinen claims it caused her to stuff herself with food while she was completely asleep, sleep-eating, believe it or not. She says she gained 50 pounds before she even realized what was happening to her, and that it almost destroyed her life.

Earlier, I spoke with her and her attorney, Susan Chana Lask, for tonight's "Vital Signs."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thank you both for joining us.

JANET MAKINEN, SUFFERED FROM SLEEP-EATING: Thank you.

ZAHN: So, Janet, how bad was your insomnia?

MAKINEN: Very bad. I would not sleep for a week, week-and-a- half at a time.

ZAHN: So, you were prescribed Ambien, and what happened?

MAKINEN: At first, I got a really good night's sleep. And several weeks after starting to take it, I began to walk and eat in my sleep.

ZAHN: How many pounds did you gain?

MAKINEN: Fifty.

ZAHN: During the course of time? Fifty pounds?

MAKINEN: Yes.

ZAHN: What the heck were you eating during the middle of the night that made you gain all that weight?

MAKINEN: I would eat anything that was available to me. Bags of candy, loaves of bread, uncooked Spanish rice, bags of potato chips. If there was no bags of anything I would open up cans of soup or vegetables or...

ZAHN: And eat it cold.

MAKINEN: ... Eat it cold, yes.

ZAHN: And when you'd wake up in the morning, and see this mess that you left behind, either in the kitchen or in bed, what did you think?

MAKINEN: The first time it happened, I thought it was my husband. I thought my husband had come home from work and cooked, made something to eat before he went to bed. Flipped on the bedroom light to scream at him and I saw barbecue sauce all over the side of my bed. I was like, my God. And I realized that it wasn't him, it was me. And I was frightened. I didn't know what to do. I never once associated it with my sleeping pill.

ZAHN: And yet this went on, year after year, up to six years.

MAKINEN: Yes.

ZAHN: So a lot of people were scratching their heads saying I don't quite buy that. How could you not begin to think there was some sort of association between Ambien and your sleep eating?

MAKINEN: I never did, I thought that I was going crazy.

ZAHN: Is it true that it got so bad at one point that your husband actually was trying to get food out of your mouth while you were sleeping and eating.

MAKINEN: Yes, he would come home and sometimes find me in bed with food in my mouth and he would have to take it out of my mouth, he was so afraid that I would choke to death.

ZAHN: Would he say anything to you or would you say anything to him?

MAKINEN: He would just plead with me, can't you stop doing this? Can't you stop walking in your sleep and eating in your sleep? He would try to guide me back to bed when he was there and it was happening. And he would try to fool me and trick me and say, "Oh, honey, I'll get it for you. You go on back to bed," thinking I would go back to bed and forget about the food.

ZAHN: Did he describe to you how out of it you were?

MAKINEN: He actually would say, "it was like you were in a trance, like I couldn't connect with you. Your eyes -- you were looking at me but it was like your eyes were dead. They had no emotion to them." ZAHN: How sick did you get, Janet, from this excessive eating?

MAKINEN: Sometimes I would eat so much that when I went back to bed and laid down, it would just all come up on me. I would vomit it up and it would be everywhere on the bed.

ZAHN: But what is so hard to understand about your story is if this had gone on for a couple of months, you could kind of understand why you wouldn't call a doctor. But after six years of this, of consistently getting sick, you still didn't see a doctor.

MAKINEN: I thought that they would think I was nuts.

ZAHN: So Susan, does that weaken the case here? During the process of getting up and eating while you were sleeping, you developed an ulcer, and this regurgitation problem and yet you still didn't seek any medical help?

SUSAN CHANA LASK, ATTORNEY: Well, it doesn't weaken the case at all. It's -- the case is all about the company not putting out the warnings. They knew about this. They knew about this in the research and development before it was put out. And there is hundreds of people that have the same exact story as Janet, that they think they're going crazy. They're afraid to tell anybody about it.

ZAHN: I want to read part of the statement from the company who makes Ambien about warnings that accompany the pill.

Quote, "when taken as prescribed, Ambien is a safe and effective treatment for insomnia. Sleep-related eating disorder is included in the prescribing information as a possible rare sleepwalking event."

LASK: That is something that they're putting out there now. It just wasn't happening possibly last year and definitely years before.

ZAHN: So you maintain that the people involved in this class action suit never had any warning, that there could potentially be any linkage at all between the taking of Ambien and sleep eating or sleepwalking?

LASK: From the research I've done and from all of the people I've spoken to, everybody has told me there was no warning and I haven't found a warning yet and I've seen past pharmacy labels and there was absolutely no warning that said sleepwalking or sleep eating could be an adverse side effect.

ZAHN: What have those six years cost you?

MAKINEN: Wow, I've never been asked that before. It cost me my peace of mind for six years. Is cost me, you know, thinking there was something mentally wrong with me, that you know, fear. Constantly afraid to reach out to the people who loved me, who were standing beside me now. That I couldn't think that I could tell them.

ZAHN: Why are you so convinced even after this information came out that it in fact was Ambien that caused your problem? MAKINEN: Why am I so convinced that it was Ambien? Because I never walked or ate in my sleep in my whole life. And I took Ambien and did it. I got off the Ambien, I've never done it since.

ZAHN: Janet, thanks so much for sharing your story with us tonight. Susan, appreciate you dropping by as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So here now is the response from the maker of Ambien. "It is difficult to determine with certainty where a particular instance of sleepwalking is drug induced, spontaneous in origin, or result of an underlying disorder." The case, we'll keep on watching from here.