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Barbiturate Abuse

What are Barbiturates?

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.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 NameStreet Name
AmobarbitalDowners, blue heavens, blue velvet, blue devils
PentobarbitalNembies, yellow jackets, abbots, Mexican yellows
PhenobarbitalPurple hearts, goof balls
SecobarbitalReds, red birds, red devils, lilly, F-40s, pinks, pink ladies, seggy
TuinalRainbows, reds and blues, tooies, double trouble, gorilla pills, F-66s

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/28/2016

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Drug Overdose

Overdoses of drugs or chemicals can be either accidental or intentional. Drug overdoses occur when a person takes more than the medically recommended dose. However, some people may be more sensitive to certain medications so that the high end of the therapeutic range of a drug may be toxic for them.

Illicit drugs, used to get high, may be taken in overdose amounts when a person's metabolism cannot detoxify the drug fast enough to avoid unintended side effects.


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.

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