Drug Overview

Important information regarding BARBITURATES drug use.

Historically, people of almost every culture have used chemical agents to induce sleep, relieve stress, and allay anxiety. While alcohol is one of the oldest and most universal agents used for these purposes, hundreds of substances have been developed that produce central nervous system (CNS) depression. These drugs have been referred to as “downers,” sedatives, hypnotics, minor tranquilizers, anxiolytics, and anti-anxiety medications. Unlike most other classes of drugs of abuse, depressants, except for methaqualone, are rarely produced in clandestine laboratories. Generally, legitimate pharmaceutical products are diverted to the illicit market.

Although a number of depressants (i.e., chloral hydrate, glutethimide, meprobamate and methaqualone) have been important players in the milieu of depressant use and abuse, two major groups of depressants have dominated the licit and illicit market for nearly a century, first barbiturates and now benzodiazepines.

Barbiturates were very popular in the first half of this century. In moderate amounts, these drugs produce a state of intoxication that is remarkably similar to alcohol intoxication. Symptoms include slurred speech, loss of motor coordination and impaired judgment. Depending on the dose, frequency, and duration of use, one can rapidly develop tolerance, physical dependence and psychological dependence on barbiturates. With the development of tolerance, the margin of safety between the effective dose and the lethal dose becomes very narrow. That is, in order to obtain the same level of intoxication, the tolerant abuser may raise his or her dose to a level that can produce coma and death. Although many individuals have taken barbiturates therapeutically without harm, concern about the addiction potential of barbiturates and the ever-increasing numbers of fatalities associated with them led to the development of alternative medications.

Today, only about 20% of all depressant prescriptions in the United States are for barbiturates.

[Abstracted from D.E.A. website q.v.]

Drug Effects

Marked sedation and reduced anxiety are the features which create the abusers’ market. Side effects are drowsiness, confusion, inability to concentrate, incoordination, tremors, slurred speech, depressed pulse rate, dilated pupils, shallow breathing. Addiction and tachyphylaxis both occur over a short time! Long term users REQUIRE HOSPITALIZATION FOR WITHDRAWL!
Incidence of Abuse
Extremely prevalent. These are cheap to manufacture and easy to find on the street. Popularity is partly because barbiturate abuse is not terribly expensive!
Immunoassay Screen is a “CLASS ASSAY” and is sensitive to:
Amobarbital, Butalbital, Butabarbital, Pentobarbital, Phenobarbital, Secobarbital
Legal (Prescription) Uses:
Phenobarbital is widely used as an anti-convulsant to control Epilepsy. Statistics show that the vast majority of those who test positive are using Phenobarb by prescription to control seizures. There is also a huge black market!
Forms and Street Names
Barbs” “Downers” and many other names (often based on the color of the diverted commercial product.)
Preferred Routes of Administration
For the most part, traffic is in pill form. Many users dissolve and use I.V.
Length of time detectable after user
2-4 days for those in the testing system! There are, however, a few longer acting barbiturates.
Confounding drugs (or factors):
None known!
Screening Cut-off:
300 ng/ml
Confirmation GC/MS Cut-of
300 ng/ml
Facts for Verifying M.R.O
Usually straightforward; but savvy abusers will obtain a prescription to cover the contingency of “getting caught” on a drug screen.