A 56-year-old Massachusetts state senator, who faced a 113-count federal indictment, was found dead from a drug commonly known as Nembutal and nicknamed “death in a bottle.”
His manner of death was designated as undetermined, meaning there was not enough evidence to indicate whether he died by accident, suicide, homicide, or natural causes.
What is clear is that Nembutal, a barbiturate drug employed to euthanize pets, has also become a reliable end-of-life-agent for people looking to depart this world for good peacefully. Prisons in 20 states use Nembutal to execute death row inmates through lethal injection as well.
Nembutal has this unparalleled ability to put users to sleep and take their breath away — literally.
Despite the fact this drug is hardly used in professional medical settings, there are people who actually abuse Nembutal recreationally, where each dose brings the risk of death. The drug’s lethality is present even when a user decides to stop. Why? Because Nembutal brings a host of harrowing withdrawal symptoms that can also result in death, if not permanent bodily damage.
Whether it is actively abused or rendering its effects through withdrawal, Nembutal is no joke. It got that nickname for a reason.
Read on to discover its devastating effects and available treatment options.
Nembutal is the trade name for pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate employed to sedate patients before surgery. Like benzodiazepines and alcohol, Nembutal and other barbiturate medications are central nervous system (CNS) depressants because they work to suppress the excitability of the nervous system. In the U.S., it is made available as a sterile solution for intravenous or intramuscular injection.
When Nembutal enters the body, it stimulates the brain chemical known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid or GABA, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that dampens nerve transmission in the brain. This is what gives barbiturates a sedative quality: they stimulate GABA which calms the body down, allowing for sleep.
At one time, Nembutal was used to treat people who suffered from insomnia and seizures.
In the 1950s, barbiturates were wildly popular, and pentobarbital was the most commonly prescribed form.
However, barbiturates have caused a number of people to die from an accidental overdose.
In fact, Nembutal played a key role in the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, two of the most celebrated actresses in history. When Monroe died in 1962, authorities discovered an empty vial of Nembutal on her bedside table, along with an array of prescription drugs. Her death was attributed to “acute barbiturate poisoning” due to “ingestion of overdose.”
In Garland’s case, a coroner determined that her 1969 death was the result of “an incautious self-overdosage.”
The medical establishment has since turned away from barbiturates in favor of benzodiazepines because the latter class of medicines was deemed less toxic. While largely relegated to obscurity, Nembutal remains a substance of abuse for some.
The common side effects of Nembutal include:
There are other telltale signs of use, which include:
Nembutal withdrawal should not be attempted alone. The symptoms are enough to devastate and even kill the body. To wit, an estimated 75 percent of people going through barbiturate withdrawal suffer seizures, and up to 66 percent may also experience delirium that endures for a few days. And that is only half of it.
The reason withdrawal occurs is that when the Nembutal exits the system, the body will experience physical disturbances. This means the body has become accustomed to the presence of the drug. Those disturbances manifest as symptoms. When it comes to barbiturates like Nembutal, the withdrawal symptoms are harrowing if not deadly.
These are the withdrawal symptoms associated with barbiturates:
8 to 12 hours: The withdrawal symptoms from barbiturates like Nembutal start about eight to 12 hours after the last dose. The symptoms that manifest during this phase include:
16 hours to 5 days: Major withdrawal symptoms generally occur about 16 hours since the last dose and last for about five days. These major symptoms include:
What’s more, the mental and emotional symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal can last several months or even years.
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The severity of barbiturate withdrawal symptoms makes professional treatment an absolute necessity. It can be a life-saving measure.
Attempts to quit barbiturates on your own can not only lead to relapse, but overdose, permanent brain and organ damage, and death.
With professional treatment, you can avoid overdose symptoms such as:
When someone experiences slowed breathing in overdose, they can suffocate, which often leads to these deleterious outcomes:
Nembutal requires the comprehensive, nuanced, and multi-level intervention that professional treatment offers.
With barbiturates, it is vitally important that the substance is removed from the body, and withdrawal symptoms are treated by a trained and certified medical staff. This phase is known as medical detoxification, which allows a client to be supervised so that the Nembutal is removed safely and comfortably.
The next phase addresses the psychological aspect of addiction, which occurs in residential treatment. A residential program is all about allowing the client to focus full-time on their recovery while receiving therapy that uncovers the root causes of their addiction.
In this type of setting, clients live at the facility where they receive treatment, allowing them to access a range of evidence-based and alternative therapies that address the mind, body, and soul.
Examples of treatment modalities that are available in a residential program include:
When someone completes residential treatment, they can continue receiving therapy and counseling on a part-time basis through an outpatient program.
Because addictions tend to linger, clients will require long-term support, the kind provided by a recovery community. Through a reputable, professional treatment program, they can get connected to a recovery community that provides support, mentorship, and inspiration. These communities can also serve as a hedge against relapse.
Nembutal is a barbiturate, which means that it’s a fairly potent central nervous system depressant; because of that, abusing the drug is inherently dangerous.
Barbiturates are no longer as commonly used as they once were because of their potential for abuse, addiction, and overdose.
A high dose of Nembutal can cause fatal symptoms like coma, hypotension, and respiratory depression. Most barbiturate overdoses lead to slowed breathing to the point of oxygen deprivation, brain damage, and death. Nembutal is more likely to cause a fatal overdose when it’s combined with other drugs like opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other barbiturates.
Nembutal can also be dangerous during withdrawal. Like other depressants, withdrawal can lead to an overactive nervous system, which can cause panic, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, seizures, and condition called delirium tremens.
Seizures can be dangerous when you go through them on your own, especially if they lead to injuries from falls or convulsions.
Delirium tremens is marked by the sudden onset of severe confusion, terror, panic, catatonia, chest pains, and an impending sense of doom. It can sometimes lead to heart failure without medical treatment.
Nembutal dependence is a serious problem and one that may need medical attention to safely address. Since Nembutal is a barbiturate, it can be dangerous and even life-threatening during withdrawal.
If you or someone you know might be dependence on Nembutal or another nervous system depressant, it’s important to speak to a doctor before you try to quit cold turkey. They may help you wean off the drug safely, or they may suggest medical detox.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder related to a barbiturate, detox is important, but it may not be enough to effectively treat addiction.
Addiction is a chronic disease that’s characterized by powerful compulsions to use, even despite serious consequences. Addiction treatment can help address a substance use disorder and any underlying issues like mental health problems.
Seeking addiction as early as possible in the disease of addiction can help to avoid some of the most severe consequences. Like long term health concerns.
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Markel, D. H. (2016, August 05). Column: Marilyn Monroe and the prescription drugs that killed her. from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/marilyn-monroe-and-the-prescription-drugs-that-killed-her
Nembutal (Pentobarbital): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (n.d.). from https://www.rxlist.com/nembutal-drug.htm
Phenobarbital (Phenobarbital): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (n.d.). from Phenobarbital (Phenobarbital): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (n.d.). f
Schoenberg, S. (2018, December 04). Drug cited in former state Sen. Brian Joyce's death. from https://www.masslive.com/politics/2018/12/former_sen_brian_joyce_died_of.html