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Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate Abuse Overview

Barbiturates are a group of drugs in the class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics, which generally describes their sleep-inducing and anxiety-decreasing effects. While barbiturate abuse may not be as talked about as some other drugs, statistics show that it is a significant health risk. Approximately 9% of Americans will abuse a barbiturate at some time in their life. One in five children grow up in households where another member of the household abuses barbiturates or other drugs. Concerning facts about barbiturate abuse include that there is just a small difference between the dose that causes desired sedation and that which causes coma and death; addiction can result from using high doses of this group of medications for as little as one month, and withdrawal symptoms may be life threatening.

  • History of use and abuse
    • Barbiturates were first used in medicine in the early 1900s and became popular in the 1960s and 1970s as treatment for anxiety, insomnia, or seizure disorders. With the popularity of barbiturates in the medical population, barbiturates as drugs of abuse evolved as well. Barbiturates were abused to reduce anxiety, decrease inhibitions, and treat unwanted effects of illicit drugs. Barbiturates can be extremely dangerous because the correct dose is difficult to predict. Even a slight overdose can cause coma or death. Barbiturates are also addictive and can cause a life-threatening withdrawal syndrome.
    • Barbiturate use and abuse has declined dramatically since the 1970s, mainly because a safer group of sedative-hypnotics called benzodiazepines are being prescribed. Benzodiazepine use has largely replaced barbiturates in the medical profession, with the exception of a few specific indications. Doctors are prescribing barbiturates less, and the illegal use of barbiturates has also substantially declined, although barbiturate abuse among teenagers may be on the rise compared with the early 1990s. Addiction to barbiturates, however, is uncommon today.
  • Types of barbiturates
    • There are many different barbiturates. The primary difference among them is how long their effects last. The effects of some of the long-acting drugs may last up to two days. Others are very short acting. Their effects last only a few minutes.
    • Barbiturates can be injected into the veins or muscles, but they are usually taken in pill form. The street names of commonly abused barbiturates describe the desired effect of the drug or the color and markings on the actual pill.

Barbiturate Names

Generic Name

Street Name

Amobarbital

Downers, blue heavens, blue velvet, blue devils

Pentobarbital

Nembies, yellow jackets, abbots, Mexican yellows

Phenobarbital

Purple hearts, goof balls

Secobarbital

Reds, red birds, red devils, lilly, F-40s, pinks, pink ladies, seggy

Tuinal

Rainbows, reds and blues, tooies, double trouble, gorilla pills, F-66s

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Toxicity, Barbituate »

Barbiturates are a class of organic compounds that were developed in the late 19th century for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary