The discovery of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) over 40 years ago led to its immediate use as a general anesthetic agent. Subsequent research demonstrated that GHB is an endogenous compound in the mammalian brain and current research suggests that GHB is a probable neurotransmitter. In the United States, reports of anabolic effects lead to its misuse among body builders during the 1980s while the intoxicating properties of the drug lead to its popularization as a substance of abuse during the 1990s. GHB became associated with reports of drug-facilitated sexual assault and cases of physical dependence and withdrawal. Efforts to ban GHB caused increased use of GHB analogues and pro-drugs. Against this backdrop, GHB was being developed for the treatment of narcolepsy, leading to the approval of Xyrem® (sodium oxybate) oral solution in 2002 for the treatment of cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy. A risk management program permits the safe handling and distribution of the approved product, minimizes the risk for diversion, provides professional and patient education about the risks and benefits of sodium oxybate, and includes physician and patient registries. Post-marketing surveillance indicates sodium oxybate has an acceptable safety profile and presents minimal risk for the development of physical dependence.
Keywords: GHB, sodium oxybate, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, risk management, drug safety