Types of Barbiturates Prescribed in the U.S. and the Dangers of Their Use

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Barbiturates are prescription drugs under strict control by the U.S. federal government and in other countries as well. There are several types of barbiturates available, and all are considered to have medical uses but to carry dangerous risks. Consequently, they are available legally only through prescription and should be medically monitored closely when used. They have been used in medical settings for such things as sedation, sleep, surgical anesthesia, migraines, seizure control and to induce medical comas.

The various types of barbiturates are classified according to their onset of effects and how long they remain active in the body. Barbiturates are consequently categorized as ultra-short acting such as thiopentone (sodium pentothal thiopental) and mexthohexitone; short acting such as butobarbitone (butobarbital) and pentobarbitone (pentobarbital); intermediate acting such as amobarbital and butabarbital, and long acting ones such as phenobarbitone (phenobarital).

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The Dangers of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are well-documented as dangerous if misused. Lethal accidental and intentional overdoses have occurred, and medical best practices have recommended they be replaced with safer drugs for some purposes. For example, they are not

so commonly used to treat insomnia now as they once were. Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin are more commonly used due to a lesser danger of misuse and fewer side-effects. However, those drugs also carry negative side effects.

Physical tolerance for barbiturates is also a danger of their use and misuse. Tolerance occurs when the body develops a need for higher doses over a period of use and withdrawal symptoms result when the dose is abruptly stopped or lowered. Tolerance and withdrawal are two core characteristics of a Substance Use Disorder or what is known in layman’s terms as substance abuse or addiction. All types of barbiturates are abusable and addictive, both physically and psychologically.

Barbiturates stay in the body for some time and the effects of the drugs wear off before the drug leaves the body. Consequently, taking further doses for the desired effect of them can cause the amount of barbiturate in the system to accumulate to dangerous levels. The danger involved can be severely complicated by the use of other substances such as benzodiazepines or alcohol which increase the depressant effects of a barbiturate.

The depressant effects of barbiturates are both medically useful and highly dangerous. These effects vary between types of barbiturates and of course, are dependent upon dosages. Some depressant effects of barbiturates are:

  • Depression of the brain’s activity and the activity of the Central Nervous System
  • Depression of respiration
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Interruption of organ functioning and organ damage
  • Decreased bowel activity and other GI disturbances
  • Impaired co-ordination
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

The Marketing of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are some of the older drugs in the history of modern pharmacology. They were first made in 1881 in the form of Barbital, and as synthetic substances have been produced in laboratories in a long list of forms. Currently there is a long list of barbiturates available on the market today. Keep in mind that barbiturates are not interchangeable. Some act more quickly than others and some remain in the body longer as described above. Also, barbiturates are not interchangeable milligram per milligram because of their different types. Additionally, several of the medications below are combination drugs with acetaminophen added for pain-relieving qualities.

Brand-named Prescription Barbiturates:

Some brand-named prescription barbiturates available today are:

  • Allonal
  • Alurate
  • Amytal
  • Anolor 300
  • Brevital
  • Bupap
  • Butabarb
  • Butalan
  • Buticaps
  • Butisol
  • Capacet
  • Cephadyn
  • Dolgic LQ
  • Esgic
  • Esgic-Plus
  • Ezol
  • Fioricet
  • Geone
  • Luminal
  • Margesic
  • Mebaral
  • Mebaral
  • Mephyltaletten
  • Nembutal
  • Nembutal (Phenobarbital)
  • Oramon
  • Orbivan CF
  • Pentothal
  • Phemiton
  • Phrenilin
  • Phrenilin Forte
  • Prominal
  • Prominal
  • Sarisol
  • Seconal
  • Seconal
  • Somnifaine
  • Surital
  • Surital
  • Zebutal

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Barbiturate Misuse and Barbiturate Addiction

All types of barbiturates are abusable and potentially addictive. Misuse occurs through obtaining barbiturates illegally without a prescription, through fabricating symptoms to obtain prescriptions, and from using prescription barbiturates in ways not medically recommended.

Barbiturates are most commonly used in pill form and methods of oral abuse include taking pills without medical supervision, taking a higher dose than prescribed, or taking pills more frequently than prescribed. Various types of barbiturates are also abused by crushing them to use intranasally (insufflation) or by what is commonly known as ‘snorting’. Finally, the third most common method of abuse is by injection. Typically, pills are crushed and dissolved in water for intravenous or intramuscular injection.

The effects of barbiturate abuse include euphoria and an overall sense of relaxation and well-being. Mood alterations occur that are desirable in cases of untreated mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Barbiturate abuse also lowers inhibitions and allows social behavior that is difficult when not intoxicated.

Prolonged and/or heavy abuse of barbiturates causes impaired cognitive functioning such as poor judgment, lack of focus and concentration, memory loss, poor decision-making and poor problem-solving. Mood instability also occurs, as does irritability, depression and suicidal thinking. Additionally, some develop psychotic symptoms that include hallucinations and/or delusions.

Barbiturate Use Disorders—Medical Conditions Caused by Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate Use Disorders are the conditions we typically call barbiturate abuse or barbiturate addiction. A disorder is diagnosed when there are at least two of the following symptoms in a 12-month period of use. These disorders cover a range of severity determined by how many symptoms are present. 2-3 symptoms are a mild disorder; 4-5 a moderate disorder and 6 or more is considered a severe Barbiturate Use Disorder. The symptoms used to diagnose a Barbiturate Use Disorder are:

  1. Taking the barbiturate in larger amounts and for longer than intended
  2. Wanting to cut down or quit but not being able to do it
  3. Spending a lot of time obtaining the barbiturate
  4. Craving or a strong desire to use barbiturates
  5. Repeatedly unable to carry out major obligations at work, school, or home due to barbiturate use
  6. Continued use despite persistent or recurring social or interpersonal problems caused or made worse by barbiturate use
  7. Stopping or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to barbiturate use
  8. Recurrent use of barbiturates in physically hazardous situations
  9. Consistent use of barbiturates despite acknowledgment of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological difficulties from using barbiturates
  10. Tolerance as defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts to achieve intoxication or desired effect or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms when barbiturates are abruptly stopped, or the usual dose is lowered , symptoms are relieved by use of the drug.

Types of Treatment for Barbiturate Use Disorders

Recovery from barbiturate abuse or addiction is possible with the right treatment. Medical consultation and supervision is critical in planning to stop barbiturate use. Withdrawal and detox from use can have serious, even life-threatening complications if not done safely. With that said, there are many options for treatment of barbiturate abuse and the appropriate option for you should be decided in collaboration with your medical provider

Some are able to withdraw from barbiturate use on an outpatient basis, seeing their medical provider by appointment and remaining at home during the withdrawal which is step by step and closely supervised. However, most addicted to barbiturates need a rehab stay for safe withdrawal and round the clock support and supervision. And, after detox is completed, treatment components that educate about addiction, the recovery process, healthy coping strategies and relapse prevention best ensure a successful recovery. If you or a loved one are in need of help to overcome a barbiturate problem, give us a call today.

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