Sleep Drug Helps Car-Crash Victim Start Speaking Again
Docs say man regained speech after being given drug normally used as sedative
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2015 3:50 PM CST
After being administered a sedative called midazolam, a patient came out of a minimally conscious state he had been in for almost two years.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A 43-year-old car-crash victim in Italy who fell into a "minimally conscious state" to the point where he could no longer speak suddenly started chatting again after receiving a sedative, LiveScience reports. A study published in November in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience said it's the first case showing "the 'awakening' effect of midazolam," a drug typically used to induce sleepiness before surgery. The man was in a coma for 40 days after his accident, then a "vegetative state" for four weeks. He was discharged after 10 months, but his condition worsened: Two years after the accident he couldn't say a single word or respond to simple commands and was performing "aimless repetitive behaviors" like clapping. Doctors treated him with various meds to no avail but then gave him midazolam instead of the usual propofol (the same drug that killed Michael Jackson) before a CT scan.

The man suddenly "began to interact with the anesthetist," then with others, the study notes. The effect wore off after two hours, but doctors were able to replicate the results during a second midazolam dosage. The study notes that patients with catatonia (a state of unresponsiveness they're not sure this man suffered from) have responded to this drug before. Because midazolam can only be used in a hospital setting, doctors switched the patient over to carbamazepine (an epilepsy drug), which has since helped the man "maintain the improvement of his ability to interact and communicate with people," a study co-author tells LiveScience. Interestingly, zolpidem (often sold under the brand name Ambien) has been "well documented in literature" as evoking response in similar patients, but it didn't work this time, the study notes. (Midazolam has also been cited in botched executions.)