Yet another Death from Stilnox?

She was young, gifted and only weeks away from receiving herdoctorate. A young philosophy graduate, she had been offeredscholarships at Oxford and Cambridge.

Instead, Mairead Costigan died when she plunged about 20 metresfrom a raised cycleway on the Harbour Bridge last September. Herfamily believes it was another tragedy involving the controversialsleeping pill Stilnox.

Mairead had been on the drug for about eightmonths, though she switched to another Z-class sleeping pill,Imovane, the week before she died.

Security footage shows 30-year-old Mairead walking groggilyacross the cycle path and climbing onto a ledge before shefell.

Stilnox has been implicated in other deaths and blamed forbizarre behaviour including driving, eating and even sexualmisadventure while sleeping.

While the family acknowledges thatImovane may have been the trigger on the night of her fall, it isconvinced that the prescription of Stilnox for eight months – whenonly four weeks is recommended – was the core reason for her death.As a coronial inquiry begins into Mairead’s death, her family wantsthe drug banned.

Mairead’s sister, Siobhan, 34, said: “Mairead died at the peakof her life personally and professionally. She was three weeks awayfrom graduation, she’d spent 12 years of her life working solidlytowards obtaining her [doctorate] and she died three weeks beforeshe ever got to enjoy the fruits of her labours.”

Mairead was the niece of Frank Costigan, QC, the head of theroyal commission into organised crime in the 1980s.

After six years at Loreto Kirribilli and Killara High School,Mairead did an undergraduate degree in philosophy at SydneyUniversity, where she came first in her honours year. She wasoffered scholarships at Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford. She beganher doctoral studies at Stanford then returned to Sydney Universityto complete her PhD.

However, in early 2007 Mairead began to suffer insomnia. Shewent to a large medical clinic in Sydney in January last year andbegan a course of Stilnox. Over the next eight months, severaldoctors prescribed Stilnox for her.

Over the final few months of her life Mairead became anxious andconfused and developed short-term memory loss. Her weight droppedfrom 51 kilos to the low 40s and her insomnia returned. About aweek before she died she changed to Imovane, also owned bysanofi-aventis.

Then, on September 13, Mairead walked to the Harbour Bridgeshortly after 10pm from her parents home at Lavender Bay. There,she climbed a chest-high sandstone wall with 30cm-ledge over thetraffic. She stepped off the ledge and fell to the roadway. She waspronounced dead 40 minutes later.

Siobhan has seen the CCTV footage of her sister on the bridge,and says she was not fully conscious. “She didn’t look anxious,upset, nothing. She was just completely blank ā€¦ she zig-zagsalong the pathway about three times before she reaches the point atwhich the sandstone wall reaches a ledge and she climbs up andover.”

Police investigated Mairead’s death and have referred her deathto the NSW Coroner. Siobhan said one of the investigating officerstold the family they did not believe it was suicide.

Z-class drugs – zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon – are allnon-benzodiazepine hypnotics that are used as an alternative todrugs such as valium.

In its campaign against Stilnox, the Costigan family has createdan online petition which has 2800 signatures to date, along withhundreds of other people’s horror stories.

A report released late last year – based on calls to a nationaldrug helpline – said there were 13 deaths, four attempted murdersand 12 suicide attempts recorded by the hotline where “zolpidem wasthe suspected causal agent”.

A bottle of Ambien, the US brand name for zolpidem, wasreportedly among the prescription drugs found near Heath Ledger’sbody when he died last month.

Costigan family webpetition.

Full ArticleĀ  in the Sydney Morning Herald on February 18, 2008


Dr. Hooper’s Comment

Last year I wrote about the dangers of Stilnox. This is the drug that was causing people to have strange behaviours during the night – while they were meant to be ‘sleeping’.

Patients on Stillnox would wake up and have breakfast as normal .They would then go to the garage and see that their car was damaged inan motor vehicle accident last night – AND THEY WERE DRIVING!

Very scary stuff.

To some, the thought of having to take medication every night to getto sleep is incredible. However, recent reports in the Age Newspapersuggest that it is indeed a multi-million dollar industry. And growingrapidly.

I was reading an article on the weekend that quoted a youngsolicitor as saying that it was ‘too inefficient to just lay there andwait an hour to go to sleep, so take a drug and make it happenquickly’. I wonder if he will be alive in his fifties?

There is a lot of money in it for the drug companies – so who caresif your child drops of a bridge or attempts suicide while coming offthe medication? Certainly not the drug companies. They are fightingtooth and nail to keep their products on the shelves.

Recent court battles with the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration- those who control the use of drugs in Australia) have resulted in noreal changes to the warning these medications carry. Remember these arethe same class of drugs that were involved in the death of Heath Ledger.

But there is something that can be done. There is another way. Thereare many conservative and very safe natural medicines that can be usedto assist with sleeping disorders.

But at the end of the day, as with prescription medicines, these are a stop gap measure. If you arealways in need of some type of medication to get to sleep then maybeyou need to rethink your lifestyle. Maybe you need to listen to whatyour body is telling you.

If we ignore the body’s cry for help, we can pay devastating penalties later on.

Whenever I can’t sleep I know that I haven’t got my exercise/workbalance right. Too much work and not enough time allocated forexercise. Easily fixed but hard to achieve when your busy. But life ismade up of choices – you either do what you know is right – or youdon’t.

Schedule out time for yourself. Exercise each day. (Exercise atwork doesn’t count.) It is a lifestyle choice, not a optional extra.You’ll have time if you make time. Check the Wellness Program for more detail.

So what natural medicines are available to help?

  • An Shen‘is a fantastic Chinese Medicine. It is a classic formula that is manyhundreds of years old that will assist you in getting to sleep andstaying asleep. If you are looking for a product that works as well asa sleeping tablet, without the dangerous side effects, then this iswhat you are looking for.
  • Phytomedicine’s Lavandula Compound is designed to help relieve thesymptoms of nervous tension, stress and anxiety. Lavandula contains St. John’s Wort,which has long been used to treat mild depression. The herb is believed to boost levelsof the brain chemical serotonin, which is one of the keys to mood andemotions.
  • Bioceuticals RestoraCalm is a comprehensive vitamin and mineralsupplement that helps to assist relaxation during the day withoutcausing sedation.Ā RestoraCalm contains a proprietary ingredient that includes a blend of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense tohelp relieve nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety.
  • Bioceuticals SomniCare contains a proprietary ingredient thatincludes a blend of Zizyphus spinosa and Magnolia officinalis to helprelieve nervous tension and promote a sound night’s sleep. One of theleading causes of insomnia in otherwise healthy adults is attributed toincreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and an over-activecentral nervous system.
  • Xiao Yao San is a classic Chinese Medicine Formula that is manyhundreds of years old. We use this formula extensively within the practice.It can be used in times of stress and will assist in rather amazingways to help deal with external pressures, anxiety or depression.