Photo/IllutrationOnline postings about the abuse of sleeping pills (Haruhiko Yoshimura)

The abuse of sleeping pills is mushrooming, especially among young people eager to get spaced out.

Sometimes, they end up in nightmarish realms, instead of sweet dreams.

Take the small hours of July 14 last year. A car smashed into a fence along a road in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

An 18-year-old student of a correspondence high school was behind the wheel, and a 19-year-old construction worker was in the passenger seat.

Both were apparently out of their head on sleeping pills they had purchased in the city of Osaka.

“I took them to get high,” investigative sources quoted the driver as saying.

The teenagers purchased 140 prescription-only sleeping pills for 11,000 yen ($102) from a “secret dealer” on a street, according to Osaka prefectural police.

Police arrested the student for violating the Road Traffic Law by driving a vehicle under the influence of hypnotics, while papers on the construction worker were sent to prosecutors on suspicion of helping the driver commit the offense by providing him with the sleeping medicine.

Experts say people can get high when they fight falling asleep after taking hypnotics.

Internet bulletin boards are full of comments suggesting the abuse of sleeping pills.

“I tripped out after taking sleeping pills. I do not remember clearly, though. It is scary but I want to do it again,” one post states. Another declares: “I felt like I was floating after taking two pills.”

A source involved in the investigations of drug abuse pointed out the possibility that strengthened crackdowns on quasi-legal drugs have led to behind-the-scenes use of sleeping pills.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of people identified as illegally possessing or offering prescription-only sleeping pills, antidepressants and other psychotropic agents for commercial purposes was 63 in 2016, the largest number over the last 20 years.

The figure was between 17 and 38 in the previous decade.

Toshihiko Matsumoto, director of the Department of Drug Dependence Research of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry’s National Institute of Mental Health, said abuse of hypnotics could lead to addiction and convulsive attacks.

“Those who continue taking sleeping medicine will want more pills,” he said. “Reckless use of the agent could cause convulsive attacks.”

(This article was written by Motofumi Watanabe and Haruhiko Yoshimura.)