Barbiturates, a class of depressants, serve to slow down bodily function. The substance is synthesized from barbiturate acid, which German chemist Adolf von Baeyer (who later founded Bayer Chemical Company) discovered in 1864. The compound is derived from combining urea (found in animal urine) and malonic acid. Doctors prescribed barbiturates extensively throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries for various illnesses as “sleeping pills.” During World War 2, the military used the drug to allow soldiers in the Pacific to tolerate the extreme jungle heat. It became accessible for public use during the 1960s and 70s as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions. However, the potential for abuse and addiction became known, and benzodiazepines have largely replaced their medical use. The black market continues to distribute it and, sadly, it has claimed the lives of celebrities like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix.
Today the Food and Drug Administration classifies barbiturates as a Schedule III controlled substance, meaning they have a potential for abuse and moderate risk of physical and psychological dependence. Physicians use it rarely as a sedative, to treat seizures, epilepsy, in general anesthesia, and for assisted suicide. The government also administers it some cases of capital punishment by lethal injection.
Prescription barbiturates range in the length of their effects, from short acting to long term. Patients can choose brand names that offer the tablet, capsule, or liquid form. Many addicts also injected the substance directly into the bloodstream for more immediate effects. Here are some examples of barbiturates in the market today:
- Amytal Sodium
- Nembutal Sodium
Heightened Abuse – Pairing Barbiturates With Other Drugs
Other drug addicts often use barbiturates, and other depressants, to counteract the opposite effects of stimulants like crack cocaine. Teens and street users also combine the drug with alcohol to heighten the calming numb sensation. In either case, combining barbiturates with other substances increases the chance of overdose and death dramatically through self-induced comas and heart failure.
Overdosing on Barbiturates can happen very quickly without clear signs. If you notice someone exhibiting any of the above signs of abuse, ensure, lovingly, they are following the correct dosage. Because barbiturates have a high level of potency, there is often a fine line between the required dose and what will induce a coma. Effective and safe use of the drug requires careful monitoring and accountability. Being open and honest about your emotional state on the drug is essential to understanding how it affects you individually.
If you notice a loved hiding pills or taking them off schedule, address gently with them the dangers of this behavior. If you or your loved one experiences an overdose, contact 911 or the National Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) immediately. If you struggle to walk short distances and faintness of breath, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible to discuss plans for ending your prescription. Do not try to self-diagnostic and administer your own solution to an overdose. You will need professional help to recover fully.
Opioids have replaced barbiturates for medical use, but addicts continue to abuse on the streets. For example:
- 1 in 10 people who overdose die from self-induced comas
- As many as 9% of Americans will abuse barbiturates in their lifetime
- 19 million barbiturates prescriptions are given each year, despite the risk of abuse
- Use of some stronger barbiturates can stay affect your body for up to 2 days and linger in your system for as long as a week!
- In 2001, a report indicated that about 2.8% of high school seniors reported using barbiturates recreationally
Barbiturate Treatment Options
The first step to any complete recovery is admitting you have a problem and being honest with your doctor and close loved ones. An active community of support is vital to a healthy recovery. Do not completely stop taking the drug, as some of the withdrawal effects can be deadly. Discuss with your a doctor a plan of gradually lowering your doses. The body can then detox naturally, but many people may also need medication to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. Complete physical withdrawal can take up to 2 weeks, but addicts can struggle with the psychological effects for years. The general withdrawal effects might include vomiting, extreme drowsiness, profuse sweating, tremors, and episodes of psychosis and hallucinations. Your doctor may recommend you check into an inpatient rehabilitation center to receive physical and dietary needs to recover quickly. Afterward, continue seeking counseling and therapy to best cope with the possibly ongoing depression and anxiety. Victory over addiction is possible, and you can start your path to a new life today.