Brazil Undergoes an Epidemic of Z Drugs for Insomnia

The country is experiencing a boom in drug sales due to easy access to them and resistance to changing habits

São Paulo

A video posted on social media at the end of December raised an alarm among friends of Matias (fictitious name). It was the record of an unusual walk in the rain along the coast of Rio de Janeiro, narrated in a strangely broken voice.

"I took a zolpidem in the afternoon because I was very anxious and wanted to sleep, but I kept fiddling with my cell phone, and that's the last memory I have of that day", the 22-year-old business student, who was rescued by a friend and taken home, tells Folha.

Zolpidem is the name of one of the hypnotic drugs prescribed for insomnia whose sales have exploded in Brazil in recent years. According to Anvisa, between 2019 and 2021, they grew 73% for the 5mg version, the same dosage taken by Matias.

These drugs are known as Z drugs, because of the names the substances were given: zolpidem, zopiclone (or eszopiclone), and zaleplone. Ingested while performing any activity, they promote dissociated states, such as confusion and sleepwalking, which puts the person at risk. And they are addictive when used for extended periods of time.

Z drugs emerged about 20 years ago with the promise of fighting insomnia and promoting fast sleep and with few side effects compared to the drugs available at the time.

According to a study carried out by scientists from USP and Unifesp and published in the journal Sleep Epidemiology, 65% of Brazilians report having sleep-related problems.

Translated by Cassy Dias

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