LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - This month marks one year since the arrest of a Beauregard Parish school bus driver, accused of endangering students by driving her route while under the influence of a prescription sleep aid.
As the case against Tammie Gibson is still unfolding in the legal system, she sits down with KPLC’s Rhonda Kitchens for a two-part special report on the dangers of prescription sleep aids.
We’ll also hear from the student who called 911.
“It was pretty scary knowing that she was going in and out of ditches,” said the student, Lampin. “We thought the bus was going to flip, that’s what I was mainly worried about and the little kids.”
One pill — that’s all Tammie Gibson says it took to change the course of her life.
It would take months and a criminal investigation to piece together how this 61-year old wife, mother, and former school counselor found herself facing charges of DWI and child endangerment.
“I had gone to my family doctor the day before the incident and complained because I had been sleepy,” Gibson said.
Tammie says the doctor gave her a prescription for Ambien.
“Five of them, he told me to take them for five days straight and see if that straightened out my sleep pattern, so I took one that night,” Gibson says.
She says she never realized the impact that one pill would have on her life.
“It’s devastating, yes,” she says.
Dr. Phillip Conner with the Sleep Disorder Center was not the doctor that treated Gibson but says hers is a textbook example of the potential dangers a drug like Ambien can pose.
“Ambien is a sleep aid as we all know and it affects a certain neurotransmitter in the brain called the GABA receptor, and the way that it works is by activating that receptor,” Conner said. “It slows down brain activity and there’s several drugs in that same family - Lunesta is one - there’s another by the name of Sonata, which all work in a similar fashion.”
Dr. Conner says the drug typically stays in your system for at least 8 hours but could last even longer in women.
“Because their metabolism is slower … they may get rid of that drug at a slower rate which then can allow spill over into the daytime,” Conner said.
Click HERE for more from the FDA on prescription sleep aids.
MORNING BUS ROUTE
Gibson says she thinks she took the pill around 10 p.m. and woke up between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. for her bus route.
“I’m sure that must have been too late, now in hindsight,” Gibson said. “He didn’t tell me what time to take it. He just said about an hour before you go to bed and I usually read or watch TV, so I’m not sure, but I took it.”
Dr. Conner says the timing of that dosage may be a key factor in the events that happened next.
“Whenever you’re making that decision as to when to take it the most important thing to factor into that is when you’re going to have to wake up and when you’re going to have to be ready to go to work and be able to function at a very high level.”
Gibson says she felt fine when she woke up, but things then took a turn for the worse.
I noticed I started feeling sleepy,” Gibson said. “I was like, ‘hmmm.’ "
She wasn’t the only one taking notice.
“When she first picked us up, I started to notice her weaving in and out, going in ditches, taking curves too soon, taking turns too wide,” said student Lampin Lampin.
That’s when Lampin says he borrowed a friend’s phone to call his mom.
“(My mom) said ‘can I try to stop the bus driver,’ " Lampin said. “I went up to the front of the bus, and I asked her and she kind of looked at me like she didn’t know what I was talking about and ignored me and just kept driving.”
So, Lampin says, his mom told him to call 911.
“When she hit the sign a lot of kids were freaking out thinking that she was going to flip over the bus, going in ditches and hitting other signs and they were just panicking, screaming,” Lampin said.
The entire event played out as Lampin remained on the phone with 911 and DeRidder police searched for the bus.
“When we got to the school, we pulled into the preschool and as she opened the door letting the little kids off she kept on driving real slowly,” Lampin said. “Teachers were yelling at her, telling her to stop she didn’t she hit the back of a bus.”
When a police officer stopped the bus, they administered a field sobriety test.
“The next thing I remember after I got off the bus, I said ‘oh I hit a pole,’ " Gibson said. “Well, he grabs me and administers a field sobriety test and I’m telling him something’s wrong with me.”
But she says, the testing continued, and the results weren’t going to be good.
“He wanted me to balance on one foot and I couldn’t do that and he said he was arresting me for DUI and I’m just like what is going on in my mind. He handcuffs me and takes me to jail”
Once there, Gibson said she was administered a breathalyzer.
“It registered zero, she said.”
Then she was taken to a hospital to have her blood drawn.
“I said you can have my blood, there’s something wrong with me, I just kept saying that,” Gibson said.
Still, she says, it never dawned on her that the Ambien she had taken the night before may be the problem.
“I went to Houston to a neurologist and had all kinds of scans and stuff because my medical doctor, the one who prescribed the Ambien, thought I might have had a TIA, a small stroke, or maybe a seizure,” she said.
But police say when Tammie’s toxicology test came back in December the officer’s suspicions were confirmed. The results showed Tammie had a generic form of Ambien in her system.
“I was like, ‘well I’m not surprised,’ " she said. “I took it, you know I did what I was told to do.”
Tammie was officially charged with driving under the influence and child endangerment.
The once outgoing mother and wife says she now avoids being seen in public.
“I don’t socialize. I don’t go out to eat,” Gibson said. “My friends have all reached out and former students and players.”
Dr. Conner says events like those are not as uncommon as you may think.
“There are very common ones,” he said. “Like getting up in the middle of the night cooking a huge meal and then getting up the next morning and all of the food is gone or the pots are all over the place, the stove and the oven are both on and having no concept of any of that happening that really does happen.”
Sanofi is committed to patient health and safety and treats all product reports with the highest degree of importance. With respect to Ambien (zolpidem), Sanofi stands behind the robust clinical data that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of Ambien when it was FDA approved in the U.S. in 1992, and the more than 25 years of real‐world use and 24 billion nights of patient therapy worldwide.
Patients and their physicians should discuss symptoms and treatment options associated with any sleep disorder. Treatment options can include behavior modifications (such as light therapy and exercise) as well as medication – both over‐the‐counter and prescription. As with any medicine – including those prescribed to treat sleeping disorders – physicians and patients should discuss the appropriate use, potential benefits and side effects based on information and data to date. Much of this can be found in the medicine’s prescribing information.
It is important that patients only take zolpidem as directed by their physician.
The FDA-approved labels for Ambien and Ambien CR state:
“The risk of next-day psychomotor impairment, including impaired driving, is increased if Ambien is taken with less than a full night of sleep remaining (7 to 8 hours); if a higher than the recommended dose is taken; if coadministered with other CNS depressants or alcohol; or if coadministered with other drugs that increase the blood levels of zolpidem. Patients should be warned against driving and other activities requiring complete mental alertness if Ambien is taken in these circumstances.”
“Vehicle drivers and machine operators should be warned that, as with other hypnotics, there may be a possible risk of adverse reactions including drowsiness, prolonged reaction time, dizziness, sleepiness, blurred/double vision, reduced alertness, and impaired driving the morning after therapy. In order to minimize this risk a full night of sleep (7-8 hours) is recommended.”
In addition, the FDA-approved label for Ambien CR states:
“While pharmacodynamic tolerance or adaptation to some adverse depressant effects of Ambien CR may develop, patients using Ambien CR should be cautioned against driving or engaging in other hazardous activities or activities requiring complete mental alertness the day after use.”