Getting enough sleep can be a challenge for many people. Up to 50% of American adults experience at least occasional inability to sleep, while roughly 10%-15% of the public suffers from chronic insomnia. When sleep disorders like insomnia get in the way of your ability to function, your doctor might suggest a medical approach to the problem. For increasing numbers of people, the answer to insomnia is eszopiclone, which is offered under the brand name Lunesta.
Lunesta is not an old-fashioned benzodiazepine-style sleeping pill. Instead, it belongs to a special class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics that act on the brain’s chemistry to produce a calming effect. Other drugs in this class include Ambien and Restoril.
Lunesta has a lower profile than Ambien, and it tends to get prescribed less. While no drug is 100% safe for everybody, Lunesta’s relatively high tolerances and low risk of negative interactions have made it a solid choice for many doctors and patients fighting insomnia.
Lunesta is most often prescribed in 2 mg doses, which are prepared as round white tablets. The tablets are film coated and have a debossed “S191” printed on one side. A generic version released in 2014 is marketed by the pharmaceutical company Mylan under the trade name eszopiclone. The generic eszopiclone tablet is marked the same way as the brand name Lunesta.
Lunesta is a niche drug for people who use it illicitly. As a sleeping pill with hypnotic effects, it’s only legally available by prescription. Street users sometimes buy the drug from street vendors, who in the United States may have smuggled it in from sources south of the U.S.-Mexican border. Because of this, Lunesta is sometimes known as Mexican Valium. Other names for the drug include sleepers, sleepeasies and zombies. Contrary to some media coverage of other sedative-hypnotics, Lunesta is not known to be used as a date-rape drug or for other nefarious purposes commonly associated with other drugs such as Rohypnol.
What Does Lunesta Do?
Lunesta is primarily a sleeping pill, used for inducing a dreamy, sleepy feeling in the people who use it. A short time after taking the tablet, users report feeling very tired and developing the classic “Lunesta euphoria.” The euphoria doesn’t last, as sleep typically sets in within a few minutes. Lunesta has a half-life of six hours, so people who wake up before getting a full night’s sleep can often feel groggy and disoriented.
Eszopiclone is not meant for long-term use. Because it has a perceptible effect on alertness, memory and cognition, Lunesta is not generally felt to be appropriate for more than roughly two weeks of nightly or near-nightly use. People who have insomnia that lasts longer than this should talk about the issue with their doctor, who’ll probably look into other options.
Addiction to Lunesta (Is Lunesta Addictive?)
Lunesta isn’t classically addictive in the way many of the more commonly abused street drugs are, though users can develop a chemical dependence. People who’ve started to become dependent on Lunesta may feel withdrawal symptoms that set in roughly 9-10 hours after the last dose has been taken.
People who abusively use Lunesta do so mainly for the euphoric state the drug induces shortly before sleep sets in. They may swallow one tablet for its long-term effect and follow up by snorting Lunesta for a quicker hit of the drug. Recreational users sometimes take a 2-3 mg dose of Lunesta with caffeine, amphetamines (meth, speed, crank) or other stimulants, including cocaine. The stimulants fight off sleep long enough for the user to fully experience the hypnotic euphoria and have a recreational high.
Dangers of Lunesta Abuse
The dangers of abusing Lunesta vary depending on the size of the dose that’s been taken, the user’s tolerance for the drug and how long the person has spent taking the drug. Because sedative-hypnotics have a depressive effect on the central nervous system, there’s a danger a person using Lunesta may not be able to safely operate heavy machinery or drive. There’s also a risk of falls or other balance issues for people who try to walk or perform other physical activity while under the influence.
More serious dangers develop when Lunesta is mixed with other drugs or when the amount consumed is higher than the prescribed dose. Lunesta overdose causes extreme drowsiness, and people using it may suddenly lose consciousness. At high levels, Lunesta can cause difficulty breathing that may lead to suffocation. Victims of overdose may slip into a coma that lasts for an indeterminate time. Both suppressed breathing and coma can increase the risk of death.
Signs of Lunesta Abuse
In the short term, people who’ve been abusing Lunesta appear drowsy and possibly euphoric, and they may show visible signs of confusion. People using Lunesta frequently have memory trouble, and they may appear very forgetful or be unable to recall old memories. The effect Lunesta has on memory can persist even several hours after the euphoria and drowsiness of the drug have worn off. Next-day withdrawal signs include jitteriness, irritability and an inability to focus. Users in withdrawal experience strong cravings and may show drug-seeking behavior, such as complaining of insomnia or nonspecific pain.
Long-term abuse of Lunesta looks a lot like other kinds of sedative abuse. Chronic memory problems may become permanent with prolonged abuse, and heavy or frequent users may also have other drugs of choice, such as Ambien or Xanax. Advanced addiction to Lunesta can be associated with heavy use of opiates, notably heroin and oxycodone.
Identifying Someone Who Has Been Using Lunesta
Aside from the visible drowsiness and confusion a person may show when they’re under the influence of Lunesta, there are no infallible signs of use. Unless the person admits to having abused Lunesta or there’s other evidence such as pill bottles or loose tablets, it may not be possible to establish with any certainty that Lunesta is the drug being used.
Treatment for Lunesta Addiction
Because of the powerful psychoactive effects Lunesta can have on the people who use it, detoxing from chronic use at home may not be safe. As a rule, half the Lunesta in a person’s body will have been flushed or metabolized within the first 9-10 hours, with another quarter gone by the end of the first full day without use. This is usually a period of severe cravings, and an unsupervised detoxification could easily slip into relapse or acute medical issues such as racing heartbeat and hallucinations.
For these reasons, doctors who treat sedative addiction generally recommend detoxing in a safe and supervised environment, which may be a clinic or hospital setting. This incidentally gives the medical team a chance to take a person’s medical and drug use history, identify any comorbid medical conditions and schedule physical and mental health interventions if needed. During the initial detox, the team can administer necessary medications to help manage cravings and the anxiety that goes with Lunesta withdrawal, as well as watch for signs of serious complications that may arise.
After the first few days, many former users of Lunesta can go home, though the treatment for addiction has only just begun. Using an outpatient or hybrid inpatient/outpatient model for direct addiction therapy, the rehab specialists can guide a Lunesta user through the first stages of long-term sobriety. The goal of this stage of treatment is to ease the person into a group setting with other people who’ve abused sedatives and promote an abstinence-based recovery. The continuing treatment for Lunesta abuse is similar to the long-term maintenance of other addictive disorders: Former users pair off with a sponsor and attend regular meetings to discuss sobriety, with the goal of a lifelong remission from abusive drug use.
If you’ve been abusing Lunesta or you’re concerned that someone you care for has been using it abusively, it’s time to call for help. Contact us today by calling FHE Health at (877) 594-3566. Our compassionate team of counselors is standing by to take your call 24/7. Start your journey to recovery today.