Drug Linked to Abuse Used for Good

A key ingredient in a so-called date rape drug is showing promise in helping patients with a certain sleep disorder.

The new medication is sold under the name Xyrem. Its active ingredient is GHB. Tthose who work with sleep patients are happy to see Xyrem on the market. Dr. Shawn Magee, medical director for the Stormont-Vail Sleep Center calls it "a significant breakthrough."

Magee says xyrem is the first drug to treat cataplexy, a condition seen in patients with narcolepsy. Magee describes it as an unusual problem where someone can lose muscle tone if exposed to stress or emotional acitivity. A common example, he says, might be laughing - a person would react to a funny joke and simply collapse.

Magee says no one's exactly sure how Xyrem works. He thinks it may stem from cataplexy being a manifestation of dream sleep that's become out of control. He says Xyrem is the first drug that makes people sleep more deeply and get more dream sleep. By making people sleep more deeply during the night, he says, it seems to help them be more awake during the day.

But since the active ingredient in Xyrem is GHB, best known as a date rape drug, it is highly regulated. Magee says it has to be dispatched from a central pharmacy, doctors must go through a process to prescribe it and a patient must receive certain educational materials before getting the drug.

Magee says patients taking Xyrem may be more likely to sleep walk at night, and most will also need to take a separate stimulating medication during the day.

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