SCIENCE

Doctors Are Prescribing A 'Date Rape Drug' For This Medical Condition

"Everything turned around -- 180 percent."

27/07/2016 3:48 AM AEST | Updated July 28, 2016 02:34
The Doctors

At 20 years old, Trinity Hamilton thought she was living a charmed life. It was 1996, and after practicing with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago for less than a week, she had been invited to join the world-renowned company.

Over the next few months, Hamilton toured the world with the Joffrey, performing in Italy, South Korea, Scotland, Portugal and England. She had been dancing since she was 4.

“I went nuts, I went nuts,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 1996. “I had always assumed I would start off at the bottom of the totem pole... But I was in the right place at the right time.”

Within a year, everything had changed.

The company approached her and asked if she was leading another life outside of dance. They asked if she was taking drugs.

“I was exhausted all the time,” Hamilton explains in this video from “The Doctors,” a medical-themed talk show. “There were days when I was an absolute zombie. I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept through the day.” 

Hamilton had developed narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder where the brain loses its ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. For Hamilton and approximately 200,000 other Americans, that means falling asleep suddenly, unpredictably and often.

She started taking stimulants prescribed by her doctor to help her stay awake during the day. But even with the stimulants, she was still constantly exhausted.

I lost all confidence in being able to dance. Trinity Hamilton, former professional dancer

“I was overmedicating myself in order to perform because I lost all confidence in being able to dance,” she says.

Then, during a rehearsal, Hamilton’s muscles gave out, and she collapsed. She was subsequently diagnosed with a type of narcolepsy ― namely, narcolepsy with cataplexy ― characterized by attacks that cause a sudden loss of muscle tone and control while you are awake. The episodes are triggered by feeling strong emotions ― joy, surprise, laughter or anger.  

“I became depressed,” Hamilton says. “I knew ultimately I needed to leave the company.”

She stopped dancing with the Joffrey, and her doctor prescribed sodium oxybate ― also known as gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB ― a drug notorious for its use in sexual assault cases.

“[GHB] has a bad reputation because it’s been used as a date rape drug and a party drug,” Emmanuel Mignot, a narcolepsy researcher at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, told The Huffington Post.

For those reasons ― and because it knocks you out strongly ― prescribing the drug is sometimes controversial, he said. The drug was added to the Controlled Substances Act in 2000, meaning the Food and Drug Administration would regulate its manufacturing, distribution and possession.

But the right dose of the sodium oxybate version of the drug can be extremely effective in helping reduce cataplexy attacks in patients with narcolepsy, Mignot explained. Sodium oxybate has been approved by the FDA since 2002 for this purpose.

For Hamilton, the drug completely changed her life. It took a few months ― and a host of side effects, including nausea, bed-wetting and vivid dreams ― to find the right dosage. But eventually she did.

“That is when everything turned around ― 180 percent,” Hamilton says. “I was able to drive a car with confidence. I was able to watch a full movie without falling asleep. I was able to teach with confidence.”

“And most importantly,” she says, “I didn’t feel like my body wanted to collapse.”

The drug helps put you in deep slow-wave sleep and prevents the body from releasing hormones that wake you up, Raj Dasgupta, a sleep medicine doctor and pulmonologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, explains on “The Doctors.” Instead, those hormones that make you more alert get released in the morning when you wake up, helping patients stay alert throughout the day.

Listen to him explain more in the video below.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.

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