Thursday, July 10, 2008

Doctors Prescribing ‘the Onion’ as Sleep Aid

WASHINGTON -- (TYDN) The American Medical Association on Friday denounced the Food and Drug Administration's arrests of thousands of doctors across the United States for prescribing the once-humorous "fake news" site the Onion as a sleep aid.

At the behest of the FDA, armed federal agents stormed doctors' offices, arresting them on allegations for what is known as "off-label" prescribing. Each medical doctor faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted and the loss of their licenses to prescribe medication.

Twenty years ago, the Onion began as a laugh-out-loud print tabloid, a tabloid now published online and originally intended to elevate the masses out of the doldrums with humor.

"These arrests demonstrate how outdated, and how far out of the mainstream the FDA approval process is," said AMA president Nancy H. Nielsen. "The Onion was initially approved as a mechanism for humor. But, over time, it has clearly lost its edge and has become a sleep-inducing vehicle. Obviously, the FDA hasn't reviewed the Onion in years."

The government often takes action against off-label prescribing; It's a practice whereby a doctor usually prescribes medication treating cardiovascular, skeletal and pulmonary conditions â.. but the medications are only FDA approved for other medical indications.

Analysts said it is the first time the FDA has initiated an arrest roundup for off-label prescribing of a sleep aid.

Still, the Bush administration defended the wide-scale arrests. "Clearly, the Onion isn't that funny any more," FDA spokesman Joseph Glowhard said. "Certainly, the Onion is boring. But whether it puts one to sleep, we haven't determined that yet."

Orenthal Cochran, an attorney for Arthur Laugher, a Malibu psychologist who was ensnared in the dragnet, defended his client for prescribing the Onion to sleep-deprived patients.

"TheYellowDailyNews is funny," he said. "But the Onion puts everybody to sleep. In fact, the Onion works so well as a sleeping pill, the FDA should have re-classified it as an anesthesia years ago."

Patients and independent analysts also weighed in on the side of the doctors.

"That the Onion's web site posts videos of scantily clad college girls underscores just how dumb and boring and what a sleep aid it has become," said Cleveland sleep-deprivation patient Jerrod Jalebatio. "If I want porn, I'll go to a real porn site. If I want to sleep at night, I'll go to the Onion.

"Before I was prescribed the Onion," Jalebatio added, "I hadn't slept since my parents, wife and children were killed in an airline disaster seven years ago. I missed the flight by a few minutes because I wanted to finish my $10 beer I just paid the airport bartender for."

The Onion editor, Dick UpRiordan, was napping and unavailable for comment.