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Tests Found Sleep Aid in Kerry Kennedy’s System Following Accident

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Kerry Kennedy

Kerry Kennedy in 2011.

Kerry Kennedy had a generic version of the sleep aid Ambien in her system when she swerved into a tractor trailer while driving on Interstate 684 in New York State earlier this month, according to court papers filed on Wednesday, Wendy Ruderman reports in The New York Times. The sleep aid was zolpidem, Pauline Kim writes for CNN.

Officer Joel Thomas of North Castle police said he found Kennedy, 52, dazed and disoriented behind the wheel of her damaged 2008 Lexus SUV on July 13, with the engine running and a flat tire. She was swaying and her speech was impaired, Thomas said, and court papers said she had no recollection of the accident, Ruderman writes. Kennedy told police when they found her that she takes the drug Synthroid every morning at 7:30 for a thyroid condition, and on occasion, she takes Ambien to help her sleep, Ruderman writes, and goes on to say:

Zolpidem, a hypnotic and sedative class drug prescribed by physicians to treat temporary insomnia, has been known to cause strange, though rare, side effects. The reported problems include sleepwalking, short-term amnesia and ‘sleep-driving’ — driving while not fully awake, according to a guide approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Ms. Kennedy told the officer that the two medications were ‘next to each other on her counter, and it is possible she took the sleep medication instead of the thyroid medication,’ according to the papers filed by the Westchester district attorney, Janet DiFiore.

A deposition prosecutors submitted to the court said that other than the zolpidem, toxicology tests found no other drugs or alcohol in her blood or urine, Ruderman writes. Ruderman asked an expert about the zolpidem:

The amount of zolpidem detected in Ms. Kennedy’s blood — 14 nanograms per milliliter — is low, said David M. Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist based in Massachusetts. Dr. Benjamin said it would be difficult, based on the level alone, to pinpoint when she took the zolpidem.

A recent article by Sharon Kirkey in The Vancouver Sun, “Experts sound alarm over sleeping pills,” mentions a study on sleeping pills published this year in the British Medical Journal as saying that sleeping pills and tranquilizers can impair motor and cognitive skills needed for driving. “The drugs have been linked with an increase in car crashes and falls due to ‘hangover’ effects,” Kirkey writes.

Kennedy pleaded not guilty at a July 17 court hearing to charges of driving while impaired. She said at a news conference after the hearing that neurological tests at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan “led my doctors to believe that this accident was caused not by a sleeping aid but by a complex partial seizure,” Ruderman writes.

In a statement, Kennedy wrote: “I am deeply sorry to all those I endangered that day, and am enormously grateful for the support I have received over the past two weeks.” Kennedy is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy and the former wife of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. She is also the sister of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose estranged wife, Mary, committed suicide on May 16. The clerk for North Castle Justice Court said Kennedy’s case is adjourned until August 14.

Image by Eric Silva, used under its Creative Commons license.


One Response to “Tests Found Sleep Aid in Kerry Kennedy’s System Following Accident”


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