Follow-up to Kerry Kennedy DUI: Does Ambien cause “sleep-driving”?

Kai Falkenburg on Forbes.com has an interesting blog post up about whether “sleep-driving” is a side effect of Ambien (the drug that Kerry Kennedy allegedly told police that she had taken hours before her car crash Friday, and the one that Commerce Secretary Bryson had been taking before his crashes last month).

Here are some highlights:

Like Bryson, reports on the Kennedy incident now claim a seizure may have caused it.  That’s despite warnings at the top of each Ambien medication guide advising users that taking it “may [cause you] to get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing [including] driving a car (‘sleep-driving’).”  Many users refuse to believe this side effect can happen to them despite thousands of reported incidents in criminal dockets across the country and in the FDA’s Adverse Event Database…

In the wake of the class action, and more than a dozen officially reported incidents of sleep driving, the FDA required the drug makers to revise the drug’s label.  It now warns the 39 million people who take Ambien that the drug can cause them to eat, have sex or drive without knowing it and with no memory of their conduct.  But it makes no mention of the legal ramifications that users like Kerry Kennedy face if they’re among the unlucky ones to suffer this purportedly rare side effect. (Ambien, made by French drug maker Sanofi, had peak annual revenues of $2.2 billion in 2006, the year before it went, according to IMS Health.)

Defendants in drug-induced legal predicaments like Kennedy have begun invoking a novel legal strategy: the Ambien defense.  Citing the FDA-mandated label, they’ve argued that sleep driving is a side effect not a criminal offense.

Read the whole story here:  Kerry Kennedy DUI arrest likely caused by sleep driving.

I should point out that in Illinois, a person can be found guilty of a DUI if that person consumed a drug that renders the person incapable of safely driving. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(4).  DUI is a “strict liability” offense meaning that intent is not relevant.  It is not a valid defense to a DUI to claim that “my medication did it” or “I did not know I would be affected.”

I am not familiar with N.Y. DUI law, which applies in Ms. Kennedy’s case, but I would expect it to be the same.

Of course, Ms. Kennedy’s spokesperson claimed that her blood test proved negative, which, if true, would render all this moot.

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