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Doctors remind people of danger, prevalence of sleep aids as "date rape" drugs

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Darren Sharper is accused of mixing alcohol shots with morphine and zolpidem, which is sold under the brand name Ambien, to sedate women.

Doctors say the alleged rapes bring to light the danger and prevalence of the very common sleep aid medicine now being used as a so-called "date rape" drug.

LSUHSC Pharmacology Professor Dr. Peter Winsauer said Ambien is a medicine that is relatively easy to get samples of. One can obtain the first few pills over the counter, or in a sample trial run through the mail, before a prescription is required.

When the common sleep aid is mixed with alcohol or other drugs, however, the results can be deadly.

"Part of the danger from this drug combination is respiratory depression. In other words, how much it decreases your ability to breathe. So alcohol, in combination with Ambien in combination with a third type of drug that also affects your ability to breathe becomes a very toxic and dangerous combination," said Winsauer.

Winsauer said morphine is not commonly seen as a date rape drug because it isn't as effective when taken orally.

Ambien and other sleep prescriptions such as Lunesta, however, are being used more frequently, Winsauer said.

The sleep aids work as muscle relaxants and slow the brain down, which, Winsauer said, decreases the brain's ability to form memories.

When dropped into a mixed drink, Winsauer said, the pills may not completely dissolve. However, when added to straight alcohol the pills can disappear, which is why they can be undetectable when mixed with alcohol and given as a shot.

Winsauer said the use of Ambien as a date rape drug is relatively new, but similar drugs have been used in the same illicit ways in the past.

Rohypnol is known to many people as "roofies."

Winsauer said the makers of that drug ended up adding a dye to the pill that turns a dark drink cloudy and a clear drink the color blue if it's contaminated. Winsauer said Ambien may have to consider adding a dye as well if the medicine continues to be abused.

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