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June 4, 2018, 7:08 a.m. EDT

Ambien maker responds to Roseanne: Racism is ‘not a known side effect’

Patients have reported sleep-driving, but racist tweeting does not make the list of side effects

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By Emma Court

Getty Images

After Roseanne Barr’s racist comment caused the cancellation of her hit ABC show, Barr had an unusual defense, blaming the insomnia medication Ambien.

Ambien’s manufacturer, Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/201967021/composite SNY -0.02%  , however, quickly denied any role in the controversy and emphasized its commitment to diversity early Wednesday.

Ambien has long been sold to help induce sleep, and it’s particularly popular in the U.S. Once a blockbuster, the drug’s sales have dropped in recent years as it has faced generic competition, and it brought in about $320 million in revenue last year.

Read: ‘Roseanne’ canceled by ABC after its star attacks Obama ally Valerie Jarrett with racist tweet

Like other widely used sleeping pills, the brand is known to have some strange, though rare, side effects, commonly after drinking alcohol or taking other medicines that make users sleepy.

The drug’s label warns that side effects may include “getting out of bed while not being fully awake and [doing] an activity that you do not know you are doing.”

See: How America has changed since ‘Roseanne’ premiered in 1988

Perhaps most notoriously, patients have reported driving while asleep. Other such issues have included sleepwalking and other unconscious nighttime activities, such as cooking and eating, having sex and talking on the phone.

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In the Elevator With Arianna Huffington

WSJ's Joanna Stern "bumps" into Arianna Huffington in the elevator at D.Live. The two talk about sleep and how Huffington is addressing the culture at Uber. Photo: Andria Chamberlin for The Wall Street Journal

The list of reported activities, as Sanofi noted, does not include racism, or tweeting, though “abnormal thinking and behavior changes” have been reported, the drug’s prescribing information notes, including “decreased inhibition (e.g. aggressiveness and extroversion that seemed out of character), bizarre behavior, agitation,” among other things.

Barr, a supporter of President Donald Trump, played a Trump supporter in the rebooted show “Roseanne,” which aimed to depict working-class Americans in a divided country. But the show has also been criticized for normalizing harmful ideologies, including around race.

But the reboot’s downfall was a Tuesday tweet by Barr that compared Valerie Jarrett, a former White House adviser to former President Barack Obama, to “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.”

ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey called the statement “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” and cancelled the show.

Barr later tried to excuse her words, tweeting that “it was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting - i went 2 far,” and describing what she said as “unforgiveable.”

She also claimed that it had occurred before.

Shares of the U.S.-listed Sanofi stock rose 1.3% in morning trade. Shares have declined 2.4% over the last three months, compared with a 0.03% lift in the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.60%  and a 1.8% decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.34% .

US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 50.78
-0.01 -0.02%
Volume: 714,665
Sept. 25, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$127.44 billion
Rev. per Employee
+51.87 +1.60%
Volume: 2.18B
Sept. 25, 2020 5:06p
US : Dow Jones Global
+358.52 +1.34%
Volume: 391.73M
Sept. 25, 2020 5:06p

Emma Court covers healthcare for MarketWatch from New York. You can follow her on Twitter @EmmaRCourt.

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