Yet another Death from Stilnox?

She was young, gifted and only weeks away from receiving her
doctorate. A young philosophy graduate, she had been offered
scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge.

Instead, Mairead Costigan died when she plunged about 20 metres
from a raised cycleway on the Harbour Bridge last September. Her
family believes it was another tragedy involving the controversial
sleeping pill Stilnox.

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

Security footage shows 30-year-old Mairead walking groggily
across the cycle path and climbing onto a ledge before she

Stilnox has been implicated in other deaths and blamed for
bizarre behaviour including driving, eating and even sexual
misadventure while sleeping.

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

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

Mairead was the niece of Frank Costigan, QC, the head of the
royal 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 Sydney
University, where she came first in her honours year. She was
offered scholarships at Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford. She began
her doctoral studies at Stanford then returned to Sydney University
to complete her PhD.

However, in early 2007 Mairead began to suffer insomnia. She
went to a large medical clinic in Sydney in January last year and
began a course of Stilnox. Over the next eight months, several
doctors prescribed Stilnox for her.

Over the final few months of her life Mairead became anxious and
confused and developed short-term memory loss. Her weight dropped
from 51 kilos to the low 40s and her insomnia returned. About a
week before she died she changed to Imovane, also owned by Sanofi-Aventis.

Then, on September 13, Mairead walked to the Harbour Bridge
shortly after 10pm from her parents home at Lavender Bay. There,
she climbed a chest-high sandstone wall with 30cm-ledge over the
traffic. She stepped off the ledge and fell to the roadway. She was
pronounced 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 … she zig-zags
along the pathway about three times before she reaches the point at
which the sandstone wall reaches a ledge and she climbs up and

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

Z-class drugs – Zolpidem, Zopiclone and Zaleplon – are all
non-benzodiazepine hypnotics that are used as an alternative to
drugs such as Valium.

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

A report released late last year – based on calls to a national
drug helpline – said there were 13 deaths, four attempted murders
and 12 suicide attempts
recorded by the hotline where “Zolpidem was
the suspected causal agent”.

A bottle of Ambien, the US brand name for Zolpidem, was
reportedly among the prescription drugs found near Heath Ledger’s
when he died last month.

Costigan family web

Full Article  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 Stilnox would wake up and have breakfast as normal . They would then go to the garage and see that their car was damaged in an motor vehicle accident last night – AND THEY WERE DRIVING!

Very scary stuff.

To some, the thought of having to take medication every night to get to sleep is incredible. However, recent reports in the Age Newspaper suggest that it is indeed a multi-million dollar industry. And growing rapidly.

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

There is a lot of money in it for the drug companies – so who cares if your child drops of a bridge or attempts suicide while coming off the medication? Certainly not the drug companies. They are fighting tooth 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 no real changes to the warning these medications carry. Remember these are the 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. There are many conservative and very safe natural medicines that can be used to assist with sleeping disorders.

But at the end of the day, as with prescription drugs these are a stop gap measure. If you are always in need of some type of medication to get to sleep then maybe you need to rethink your lifestyle. Maybe you need to listen to what your 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/work balance right. Too much work and not enough time allocated for exercise. Easily fixed but hard to achieve when you are busy. But life is made up of choices – you either do what you know is right – or you don’t.

Schedule out time for yourself. Exercise each day. (Exercise at work doesn’t count.) It is a lifestyle choice, not an 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 many hundreds of years old that will assist you in getting to sleep and staying asleep. If you are looking for a product that works as well as a sleeping tablet, without the dangerous side effects, then this is what you are looking for.
  • Phytomedicine’s Lavandula Compound is designed to help relieve the
    symptoms 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 levels
    of the brain chemical serotonin, which is one of the keys to mood and
  • Bioceuticals RestoraCalm is a comprehensive vitamin and mineral
    supplement that helps to assist relaxation during the day without
    causing sedation. RestoraCalm contains a proprietary ingredient that includes a blend of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense to
    help relieve nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety.
  • Bioceuticals SomniCare contains a proprietary ingredient that
    includes a blend of Zizyphus spinosa and Magnolia officinalis to help
    relieve nervous tension and promote a sound night’s sleep. One of the
    leading causes of insomnia in otherwise healthy adults is attributed to
    increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and an over-active
    central nervous system.
  • Xiao Yao San is a classic Chinese Medicine Formula that is many hundreds of years old. We use this formula extensively within the practice.
    It can be used in times of stress and will assist in rather amazing
    ways to help deal with external pressures, anxiety or depression.