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 indicated 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.
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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.
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Ready to get help? Give us a call.
How Does Nembutal Work?
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.
The History of Nembutal
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.
Nembutal Side Effects
The common side effects of Nembutal include:
- Intoxication similar to alcohol
- Motor coordination loss
- Concentration difficulties
- Slurred speech
- Poor decision making
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
- Uncontrolled eye movement
There are other telltale signs of use, which include:
- Consuming the drug for nonmedical purposes
- Constantly thinking about Nembutal
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Taking Nembutal only to avoid withdrawal
- High Nembutal tolerance
- Strong Nembutal cravings
- Exceeding prescribed dosage
- Feeling unable to quit Nembutal
- Using Nembutal with other drugs
Nembutal Withdrawal Symptoms
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 the 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:
- Heart failure
- Suicidal thoughts
- Stomach cramps
- High temperature
- Trouble sleeping
Timeline of Nembutal Withdrawal
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:
- Muscle twitching
- Hand tremors
- Distorted vision
- Low blood pressure
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.
Why Professional Treatment Matters
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:
- Slowed breathing
- Drop in body temperature
- Uncontrollable movements of the eyes
- Loss of coordination
When someone experiences slowed breathing in overdose, they can suffocate, which often leads to these deleterious outcomes:
- Brain damage
How Professional Treatment Helps
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:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
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.
Get Help Today
Nembutal withdrawal is no joke. Let us help you find a program that can save your life.
Call Maryland House Detox anytime, day or evening, for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable addiction recovery specialists. We can help you find the right treatment option. Contact us online for more information.
Barbiturate Abuse. (n.d.). from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/barbiturate-abuse#2
CBS News. (2010, September 30). Stars, Drugs and Death. from https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/stars-drugs-and-death/15/
Lethal injection protocols. (n.d.). from https://lethalinjectioninfo.org/lethal-injection-protocols/
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 https://www.rxlist.com/phenobarbital-drug.htm
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