Xyrem is a trade name for the drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate, also known as sodium oxybate or GHB (or, if you work for the DEA and believe anything anyone tells you, as scoop, soap, and "salty water."). The Xyrem name is owned by Orphan Medical, a publicly traded U.S. corporation that specializes in drugs for orphan diseases.

GHB is naturally a very safe drug. It is an effective tranquilizer which does not suppress REM or slow-wave sleep or have hangover potential, unlike the commonly used benzodiazepenes such as diazepam (Valium). It is also the only known treatment for narcolepsy that appears to normalize the underlying neurological disorder. It is for this purpose that Orphan Medical wishes to market GHB, and current multi-year tests (run by independent investigators) show very promising results.

However, because GHB is also a popular recreational drug, the U.S. government has seen fit to declare it tremendously illegal. In an odd twisting of the controlled substances act, GHB has been placed on schedule I, the list of the most intrinsically dangerous and medically useless substances. However, Xyrem -- which is identical in every way except that it is manufactured and sold by a corporation under officially-sanctioned circumstances -- is on schedule III, with other moderately-regulated medical drugs like codeine.

This situation is ripe for satire, and as an advocate of GHB before it received the legislative smackdown I yearn to savage the government's unjust policies. But I have to admit that this makes a hell of a lot more sense than the default assumption of the controlled substances act, which is that drugs -- simple chemicals -- are intrinsically dangerous or safe, independent of how or why they're used. It's true that GHB purchased on the street is more likely to be poorly-made, improperly-measured, or used by people who don't know how to avoid abuse. Unlike the situation with medical marijuana, in which people who are dying from cachexia or being blinded by glaucoma are denied a potent medicine, the GHB legislation is not disgustingly inhumane, merely unjust.