There is a saying that the difference between medicine and poison is in the dose, and that certainly can be said about the barbiturate medication Nembutal. Also, generically known as pentobarbital or pentobarbitone, this medication is not just another regular sleeping pill. It is commonly used in high doses to bring death to those who wish to end their own lives via assisted suicide. High doses of the drug bring one into a peaceful sleep by respiratory arrest. The drug also has been used in the United States to carry out the death penalty.

The drug has been around since 1930 when John S. Lundy coined it from the “structural formula sodium salt—Na (sodium) + ethyl + methyl + butyl+ al (common suffix for barbiturates),” according to a Wikipedia entry, and started using it.

Nembutal also has appealed to recreational users who are looking for a high or those who started to abuse it after they were prescribed the medication for other legitimate health reasons. As is the case with many other substances, the drug is abused for its relaxing and calming effects. However, such use is not to be taken casually as Nembutal addiction can rapidly take hold and make it difficult for users to stop abusing it.

What is Nembutal?

Nembutal is the brand-name for pentobarbital or pentobarbitone, a short-acting barbiturate medication prescribed as a sleeping pill, sedative, or anticonvulsant. It is used to treat people with short-term insomnia and those who need emergency treatment for seizures. It is also used as a preanesthetic during surgeries to help people fall asleep before their procedures begin. 

Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotics that relax the body and produce feelings of calm. They are intended for short-term use. explains that medications in this class like Nembutal slow activity in the brain and the body’s central nervous system. It depresses the sensory cortex, which decreases motor activity, changes brain functions that control coordination and balance, and produces drowsiness, sedation, and hypnosis.

Nembutal is typically administered to users by a medical professional via an oral capsule or through intramuscular injection. However, it is also available as a compounding powder, oral elixir, or rectal suppository.

On the streets or recreational drug world, Nembutal is known by several names, including barbs, reds, red birds, phennie, tooies, yellows, and yellow jackets.

What are the Signs of Nembutal Addiction?

Nembutal is a potent medication that should be handled with care. It is habit-forming, and heavy or excessive use can result in becoming psychologically addicted to it. Barbiturate addiction is likely with chronic use. A person who is addicted to Nembutal (pentobarbital) may exhibit the following signs:

  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of motor coordination or unsteady gait
  • Slurred speech
  • Intoxication similar to that of alcohol
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Clouded or poor judgment
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Uncontrolled eye movement
  • Mood swings

Other signs of Nembutal addiction include:

  • Strong, seemingly unbearable cravings for Nembutal (Pentobarbital)
  • Constantly thinking about Nembutal or other barbiturates
  • Taking the drug outside of what is prescribed
  • Not using the drug in the manner it was intended
  • High tolerance for Nembutal; taking more of the drug for the same desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 24-48 hours after the drug is last taken
  • Taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding Nembutal use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated from others
  • Inability to stop using Nembutal or other drugs despite repeated attempts to quit
  • Feeling like you can’t function without the drug
  • Mixing a barbiturate with alcohol or benzodiazepines (polysubstance abuse)
  • Using Nembutal despite the negative consequences, such as job loss, strained relationships

People who take Nembutal to the point of dependence or addiction may suddenly want to end their use, so they stop using it immediately. Going “cold turkey,” as this practice is called is not the way to go. Instead, quitting Nembutal must be treated as a gradual process gradually. Abruptly stopping can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can make a person want to return to using just to end their discomfort.

Such a relapse is dangerous because it can lead to overdose, which could be fatal. A sudden break in long-term Nembutal use can result in other unfavorable health conditions, including hallucinations, seizures, convulsions, fever, vomiting, and suicidal thoughts. Getting professional treatment for Nembutal addiction from a licensed, reputable treatment center is the safer alternative.

What is Involved in Nembutal Addiction Treatment?

Chronic Nembutal use can lead to overdose. A barbiturate overdose is life-threatening, so it is critical to get emergency care before starting an addiction treatment program. 

The length of the process to treat Nembutal addiction very much depends on the individual, including the person’s history of use of Nembutal or other substances. Other factors that can affect the recovery process include:

  • Age, sex, health, medical history, and lifestyle
  • Your weight and body fat percentage
  • How often Nembutal (pentobarbital) is consumed
  • Nembutal (pentobarbital) tolerance
  • The manner in which Nembutal has been used (snorted, injected);
  • If Nembutal or other barbiturates have been used with other drugs and substances, such as benzodiazepines, opioids, or alcohol (polysubstance abuse)

Long-time users are advised to enter a drug rehab program and get professional help that can result in substance abuse recovery. 

The addiction treatment process typically starts with a medical detoxification that takes place at a treatment center or hospital. This medically-monitored process involves around-the-clock care to ensure all traces of barbiturates and other drugs and toxins are safely removed from the system. During this process, clients are kept safe and comfortable as they are given medicines and other care to ease withdrawal symptoms and make them manageable. Medical professionals may use a tapering method to wean clients slowly off barbiturates.

While detox is the first step in drug rehabilitation treatment, it is not enough to stop someone from abusing Nembutal or any other addictive substances again.

An evaluation will help determine how far along a person is in their addiction or dependence on Nembutal and whether the person has a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders means a person has a substance use disorder along with a mental health disorder. Common mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. Finding a treatment center that addresses both conditions at the same time gives the dually diagnosed person the best chance at recovery. If you or someone you know is facing this situation, Maryland House Detox can help with these needs. Call us at 855-928-0596.

Once the detox process has been completed and an evaluation has taken place, clients are presented with options for a treatment program. These options include residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. In all of these programs, recovering barbiturate users have the time and opportunity to address their addiction and begin to heal on all levels—mentally, physically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. 

Treatment also can be customized to specific needs and preferences, and include 12-step fellowship programs (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example), motivational therapy, trauma therapy, holistic therapies, such as yoga and guided imagery, and individual counseling and group counseling sessions.

Recovering Nembutal users are also advised to seek aftercare services that are designed to help people in recovery by giving them the tools and guidance to focus on their goals and reduce their chances of relapse. There are many opportunities out there that can help one achieve this goal, including follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, which often happens long after dependence on the drug has passed. Barbiturate-related PAWS can include anxiety, cognitive impairment, irritability, and depression.

How Dangerous is Nembutal (Pentobarbital)?

Any dose that exceeds the recommended dose of Nembutal put users on the path overdose and possibly death. The risk of developing a Nembutal addiction is even higher if the person has a history of substance abuse. Excessively using Nembutal can cause long-term and perhaps permanent physical and mental changes. Nembutal overdoses are poisonous, and the drug can shut down areas of the brain responsible for breathing and heart rate. 

Nembutal overdose can cause complications such as pneumonia, cardiac arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, renal failure, and other long-term health problems.

Nembutal (Pentobarbital) Abuse Statistics

  • In 2013, barbiturates were found to be responsible for almost 400 deaths.
  • Each year, doctors give out about 19 million barbiturate prescriptions.
  • 8 percent of all barbiturates in the U.S. are created illegally.
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