Q. I have suffered with insomnia for years. My doctor prescribed Ambien, which gives me eight hours of restful sleep. Then the pharmacist switched me to generic zolpidem for under $15. He said it was identical to Ambien.

It wasn’t! I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since switching. If I do fall asleep I have horrible nightmares. I cannot afford $130 for regular Ambien. What else can I do? I need my sleep to be alert at work.

A. Dozens of other readers have also reported problems with generic Ambien (zolpidem). If your insurance company won’t cover the brand name medicine, you may wish to consider some non-drug options. They include a small high-carb bedtime snack such as milk and graham crackers, dietary supplements such as magnesium, melatonin, passionflower or valerian, a hot bath an hour before retiring and acupressure wristbands.

We describe these approaches and others in greater detail in our newly revised Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. We also discuss OTC sleeping pills and prescription drugs such as Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem.

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  1. SickNtired
    USA
    Reply

    I have terrible insomnia and have had it for years due to multiple medical issues. I have taken Ambien for over 10 years. Before everyone freaks out, I have no bad side effects, no weird dreams. If I can sleep without I do. About 3 years ago they switched to generic…poof…away went that feeling of complete relaxation 20 minutes before I fell asleep. I thought it was me being silly.

    Then my daughters husband was deployed and she couldn’t sleep. They put her on ambien..the real thing. It was a god send. She was like a new person. Then 4 months into his deployment insurance required a …you guessed it a generic. She called me a week later frazzled. I can’t sleep mom! I asked her why. I don’t know. Then she told me they changed to a generic. Bingo. I knew right then I wasn’t nuts. It was the freaking generic.

    They just keep telling you it has to be made exactly the same but I say it’s not. While it’s nice to know I’m not nuts it’s a shame to know we are all going through the same thing and nobody listens. Yes if I had the money I would tell them to flush this generic crap and buy the real thing because I should know after taking it for years the week after I went to generic it stopped working.

  2. Von
    Newport News, VA
    Reply

    The generic for Ambien is the worst. It causes dry mouth, less sleeping time, have to take more MGs, it is absolutely useless. So why is Ambien so expensive? Do we have a problem with drug companies shoving generic drugs down our throat when actually very few work and this comes from doctors themselves.

  3. BR
    Reply

    I’ve been on Lunesta for several years with complete satisfaction. I’ve just fallen in Doughnut Hole with Medicare Part D, only taking 2regular Rx. I started on Eszopiclone, generic for Lunesta, haven’t had restful sleep for days at a time. Sometime do not sleep thru the night, several nites feel itchy. Tried to go back on Lunesta, cost is now’$450.50, comepaired to $27.60 with mail in pharmacy. What r my options, has this happened to anyone else?

  4. M. Harvey
    Reply

    I have used the regular Ambien for only 3 months now despite years of insomnia. Before that I just put up with not sleeping.
    My last prescription my Dr let me try the Teva generic brand of Ambien…Zolpidem. I got absolutely zero sleep, and wont use it again.
    I really cant afford the Ambien price, and the pharmacist suggested Sonata, but it will also be a generic filled by Teva. I have never had a problem with generic meds before, but apparently from what I am seeing on line, their generic Ambien is useless. Im afraid the Teva Sonata generic will not work as well.
    This obvious issue needs to be immediately addressed, as a lot of insurance carriers only cover generics. This may not seem like a huge deal, but if you have ever had true insomnia, and never sleep well, it becomes understandable how frustrating this situation is.

  5. jw
    Reply

    I’ve been taking Ambien for about 2 years, it worked well, no side effects, on the 5 mg dose. They switched me to zolpidem made by Northstar, a few months ago. I still sleep fine, but I am now experiencing a horrible taste in my mouth, lasts all day, along with a very unpleasant smell. Everything I eat tastes horrible. Kind of metallic. It seems as if everything around me has this awful smell, but I’ve figured out it is coming from me. Urine is darker and exudes this smell as well. Has anyone else experienced this?

  6. cd
    Reply

    I get 6 hrs of good sleep with only 4 mg of Teva. But North star get maybe 2 hrs restless sleep thrashing around and weird dreams. Now calling around to find Teva for next refill but meanwhile I’m stuck for a month using Northstar! So wrong!

  7. VN
    Reply

    Same situation. Was prescribed Ambien CR about 10 years ago. Very, very effective. Recently prescribed it again and they gave me a generic by North Star. Very ineffective. Their quality control must be lower than Ambien as their product is ridiculously lacking in results. Since starting it, I’ve been averaging 4 to 5.5 hours a sleep per night, which doesn’t meet promises made in the literature.
    Wake up tired as expected from missing so much sleep. Have tried many alternatives (natural and pharmacological) but Ambien CR worked where all others failed.

  8. Ruth
    Reply

    After reading all these comments I am convinced that it is not “all in my head” which is a relief. I took the real Ambien for years and my insurance covered most of it BUT then the generic came out, my insurance won’t cover real Ambien now, only the Generic version and it does not work for me at all. In fact with this stuff I started sleeping walking when I did sleep – not dangerous stuff but still scary. Maybe their Generic is made in China!! I stopped taking it but I miss the REAL Ambien. It is not the same, I don’t care what they say. The price for real Ambien has not come down, in fact I think it has gone up. The Fix is In.

    • SickNtired
      Reply

      It is not in your head….I thought it was in my head too! Until it happened to my daughter too!

  9. mpj
    Reply

    Marion, I too found Qualitest completely useless. I don’t think it contains any active ingredient at all. I request that the pharmacy I use fill my script with Sandoz brand. These seem to work best for me.
    Re the quality control – I think lack of efficacy should be reported as an “adverse” reaction. Qualitest is owned by Endo Pharmaceuticals. There is a phone number on their website to report adverse reactions. Here’s the link to the page: http://www.endo.com/contact (the number they say to call is: (800) 462-ENDO (3636).
    It says to call to report an adverse reaction and I think we should all start calling, because apparently neither our docs nor the pharmacists are calling. I am going to call the number on Monday.

  10. Marion
    Reply

    Glad we found this website. My husband and I both take Zolpidem. We both ordered refills from Rite Aid and both found the new batch useless. No sleep at all. The new batch came from Qualitest. Rite Aid changed from Northstar–which were effective, to this completely ineffective generic. Yes we complained to Rite Aid pharmacy but got the same stupid answers others have reported.
    Where is the quality control? For that matter, how do I know if my generic Synthroid (thyroid) pills fluctuate in quality? This is serious stuff.Has anyone complained to FDA, CDC? I’m desperate for a solution.

  11. Bob
    Reply

    These comments are all very interesting and glad I stumbled on to it. I have been taking various forms of Zolpidem over 5 years now as the original Ambien became too expensive for me. Most of the times they have been 10mg. and scored so I could break them in half. A lot of times 5mg. would work, but if I did not sleep through the night, I always had the option to take the second half of the pill.
    Sometimes the pharmacy would give me the round ones and they did not split to well, so my pharmacy would take the effort to order the oval ones if I called ahead, so cudo’s for WG!
    Lately I just got a new scrip and now am not staying awake as well and have some weird dreams?? I wondered if the supplier company had been changed, so I checked the date sheet that came with the script to see if it was from a different lab, but it appears not. So I’m confused as to why I’m seeing different effects from the last batch I was receiving?
    Also, I do not remember having so many weird vivid dreams before with the old medicine. I mean, I do not remember dreaming much at all back then anymore than an occasional one here and there. I’m sure that people will have dream experiences that can be influenced on whatever may be going on in one’s life like dealing with illness, pain and stress from whatever stimuli.
    So checking on this supplier list, I see WG has been using Teva and lately Qualtest.
    Rite Aid has given me Teva (round)and Dr. Reddy’s oval.
    I’m just wondering if the supply is different from the same company but different factories from different countries now?

  12. Judith
    Reply

    I had used Ambien CR 12.5 since 2006. I have chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and other problems. I thought it was a miracle when the REAL Ambien was given to me. Now my plan says that I must take a generic or pay for the generic, real and a “penalty”. Not one representative explained it quite the same way, or clearly.
    I now, having tried three different generics, have gone back to paying for the REAL stuff. Over the last year and a half it has gone from about $200 for every 90 days to $1,018 for 90 days. I live on as limited pension, as I contracted CFS at 47 years of age and a small amount of $ from SS as I reported tutoring, etc.
    Fortunately, I paid for a small disability policy or I would be on welfare. Clearly, I try to think ahead and be responsible, but that doesn’t”t seem to matter. All the generics of Ambien made me ill, unable to sleep, dizzy, clumsy and unrested. The letters from my Dr., who says many of his patients suffer the same problems, are rejected by the drug company that my plan insists that I have. As I understand it, the Mass. plan is the template for parts of Obmacare. I DO want everyone to have health care coverage but if it insists only on generics there are going to be a lot of very ill people in the USA.
    I worry that the medical companies and insurance companies are taking over good health care. It may come down to food or sleep. I’m scared. Especially as this may be swept up into all the other mega data.

  13. Stephanie
    Reply

    I am currently on the generic made by Sandoz. Frankly it does nothing for me. When I was on Ambien I fell asleep within half a hour or less and slept 8 hours. I woke up refreshed and not at all drowsy. This generic crap doesn’t help me. I can take it and still be up all night long. I’ve went two days without any sleep at all. I have issues with generic Wellbutrin as well. I take a lot of meds because I have a chronic major illness. Most of them are generics and work fine. But the Wellbutrin and the ambien majorly suck.!
    If I had to go back to brand name Wellbutrin. It’s costing me $350 a month. I can’t remember what the cost of the ambien was. The FDA has admitted that some generic forms of Wellbutrin are not up to par. Something patients had been telling them for years. I wonder how long it will take them to get the hint about the ambien/ zolpiedem issue. I’m tired of meds that don’t work. I have Lupus, fibromyalgia , asthma, a blood disorder as well as complex PTSD. I can’t afford to waste money on crap that doesn’t work.

  14. Rebecca
    Reply

    I have been on 20 mg of Ambien for almost 5 years with not much problem except the occasional tolerance build up and I end up short on my meds for the month.
    My doctor will usually up my dose and now it is at 20mg. After a year of that I just picked up my Walmart RX and took the 2 pills as prescribed and its been 2 hours I lay in my bed wondering if they gave me the right medicine. I looked it up on identifier and it all matches it just seems like I got a bottle of placebos. Absolutely NO EFFECT.
    This worries me because it’s not like they let you bring them back and complain about it. I depend on the sound sleep mainly for my career so that I can have natural energy during the day to lead 100’s of people and fly out to meetings and be prepared. It all falls on my Ambien and I am not sure if this was just a bad batch or something has changed in the compound of what is in it.
    If anyone knows please let me know. I have to get switched somehow before my next trip overseas next week. Please let me know if you have had a really weak RX this time around. Or an advise of something equivalent to switch to. My doctor has me on what’s powerful because I guess I don’t react to small does at all. I am slender lb., 30 female and generally healthy.

  15. Kathryn D
    Reply

    I’ve been an Ambien/Zolpidem user for 14 years… and yes there is a huge difference in the “fillers” each manufacturer uses.
    I won’t go into my long medical history here-but will say that all my doctors agree that I’m medically addicted-and interestingly only one has tried to wean me off. Sadly he was suggesting something more addictive than ambien. I myself have tried to wean off at the 9,11 and 12 year mark… I was not successful.
    I’d journal the symptoms-which continued WELL past the point the body is “supposed” to be physically weaned…and was still not sleeping, having hot flashes, headaches, panic attacks etc. The longest I’ve been able to make it was 59 days.
    From what I’ve read-Ambien changes the brain chemistry. I suspect that this change is permanent-and that’s why the medical industry is “putting the brakes” on dispensing. Makes NO sense for an insurance company to say “30 pills is over your limit” (Medco does this)and your doctor will have to persuade us otherwise. You need to sleep, generally, every night.
    I have allergic reactions to the yellow/red dye that Torrent uses-so they’re out. Teva-didn’t work. Aurobindo-worked well… but nobody seems to carry anymore near me. Dr. Reddy- no ill effects, but would have to double dosage. Mylan-actually was ok for me… they’ve discontinued carrying it in my area.
    Northstar-If this was the same brand Target carried years back, it didn’t work for me.
    I’ve tried Lunesta, Sonata, all the “different category” sleep aids… Nothing.
    I think we Ambien users are in a world of hurt.

  16. Steve w
    Reply

    I’ve been taking name brand Sonata, 10mg, for years, now Rite Aid gave me Zaleplon manufactured by Teva, this stuff is worthless. I cannot believe the quality differences between the generics. I’m going to have my doctor call in and have to say no substitutions with the Sonata order and pay the money. Btw, my girlfriend had her doctor send in a write up saying she cannot take the generics, and her insurance HAD to pay for name brand. It’s worth a shot if your doctor is willing.

  17. Cindee
    Reply

    I had the same exact problem with TEVA zaleplon. I’ve been taking 10mg for years now; no problems with Northstar. Pharmacy switched to TEVA and the pills are completely worthless. I had a couple of the Northstars left and compared the contents with the TEVA caps. TEVA capsules contained less than half of what the northstars contained. Don’t know if that’s the only issue, though, because taking two TEVAs doesn’t help insomnia and leaves me with a splitting headache the next day.
    I think the only option is to shop around for pharmacies that carry Northstar and hope that others do the same. Since the FDA is essentially a non-agency, consumers need to speak with their $.

  18. c mckone
    Reply

    About 2 years ago, I had a complete hysterectomy. I woke up from surgery in a forced menopause. I can’t take hormones and prob would not, from what I have read about them, as I was told 4 years ago I had a stage 1 breast cancer and had it removed, now info has come out that too many were diagnosed and cut on for the same thing that one year. So not sure if I was one that got lied to about the breast cancer or not.
    Any way, I was expecting hot flashes, and sure enough I got those, but I also got night sweats and insomnia from hell. So I was started on ambian. It worked fine. Then cvs caremark insurance said it only covered zolpidam. Now 2 years ago, when this started, I got 90 pills at a time. I took one a day. It cost me co pay about 5 bucks. Then it changed, and was only 30 pills at a time, and cost me about 75 cents in copay.
    Then I got a letter, stating that, I had to have a doctors note, to continue on the sleeping pill. Once a year the doctor had to write and or answer questions to cvs caremark as to why I needed this medication. Then this year cvs caremark sent a letter stating that it now required the doctor to do this special paper work 2x a year. I had 1 pill left. The manufacturers instructions on coming off these pills is exact, and says patient to be slowly weened off this pill. They did not give a darn.
    They denied my claim, and said I could not have the generic ambian. They would not cover it. Nor will they cover any other sleeping pills. I take just 2 pills one hb and one sleeping pill per day, it’s not like I’m some kinda pill popper. They made me feel like a crack head over a sleeping pill. On generic, I slept 2 hours and would wake up, and then another 2 hrs and wake up. It worked ok I guess, better then nothing. The latest letter from cvs caremark, is that I go see a psychiatrist. As I’m bound to be crazy, if I can’t sleep and have some underlying medical problem.
    I figure, they never read my medical history anyway. So, they can burn in hells fires. I take melatonin 10 mg every night. It takes me about 4 hrs after taking pill to fall asleep. Generic with out insurance last year was 27 dollar copay. This year it was 60 for 30 days. like I said, they can burn in hell.

  19. GAF
    Reply

    It’s a shame that after all available evidence that Zolpidem ER 12.5mg does not function as well as Ambien CR 12.5mg, that the insurance companies continue to deny coverage on the basis that a generic version is available. I am just sick of it and think that it’s about time that people start voting out their state representatives, releasing the bond between lobbyists and law makers.

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