The Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD) estimates that around 3,000 people die from an overdose on a barbiturate drug in the United States every year. Over half of these overdose deaths are accidental, as GINAD warns that the legal dosage of many of these drugs is not that much different than a fatal dose.
Nembutal is the brand-name formulation of the barbiturate pentobarbital sodium. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers pentobarbital a potentially dangerous drug and classifies it as a Schedule II controlled substance, the highest level of control for a drug with an approved medical use in the United States. Nembutal may be prescribed for the short-term treatment of insomnia, to help manage seizures, before surgery or medical procedures as a preanesthetic drug, or to promote a medically induced coma. Pentobarbital is also used in lethal injections within the American judicial system and most commonly by veterinarians for the purposes of euthanasia.
Barbiturates are sedative drugs that slow down respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and other functions of the central nervous system. Pentobarbital is considered a short-acting barbiturate that remains active in the body for 4-8 hours. It has a half-life of 15-50 hours, as reported by the journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine.
As a sedative-hypnotic drug, Nembutal is a target for abuse and considered to be highly addictive. It may also be commonly mixed with other drugs and/or alcohol, which increases the odds for a life-threatening overdose. In 2011, nearly 20,000 Americans sought emergency department (ED) treatment for an adverse reaction to the nonmedical use of a barbiturate drug, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) publishes.
The makers of Nembutal, Akorn Pharmaceuticals, warn that Nembutal can be fatal in as little as 1 gram. The fatal dose may vary from one person to the next and is dependent on a variety of factors. The Indian Journal of Anesthesia reports that pentobarbital is usually fatal in ingested doses between 2 and 10 grams.
Generally speaking, when someone suffers an overdose on Nembutal, some of the autonomic functions of the central nervous system necessary for sustaining life shut down. They may stop breathing and suffer cardiac arrest. The following are potential signs of a Nembutal overdose, as published by The New York Times:
- Weak pulse
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Heart failure
- Difficulties breathing or stopping breathing altogether
- Kidney failure
- Lowered energy levels
- Ataxia (unsteady gait)
- Slurred speech
- Extreme drowsiness and/or loss of consciousness
- Mental confusion
- Rash and possible blisters
Nembutal overdose requires immediate medical attention and should be considered a medical emergency. It can lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain, resulting in coma, brain damage, and death. Overdose from Nembutal can be reversed with medical treatment that likely includes the administration of activated charcoal and other medications designed to expel the poison and stabilize the individual.
Factors Influencing Overdose
As stated, a fatal dose of Nembutal differs from person to person and depends on biological, genetic, social, and environmental factors. It can make a difference how the person takes Nembutal, for example. Someone who injects, snorts, or smokes the drug may send it more rapidly across the barrier between the blood and the brain, therefore increasing the odds for an overdose.
When someone takes Nembutal illicitly, they likely do not know the proper dosage for them and also may not be aware of exactly what they are ingesting or how it may interact with other medications they may be on as well. People may take Nembutal with other drugs or alcohol to increase the euphoric “high” or to blunt the effects of another substance. Taking Nembutal with another substance, particularly another central nervous system depressant, such as alcohol, benzodiazepine drugs, or opioid drugs, can also increase its effects and the odds for a fatal overdose. All of these substances work to decrease life-sustaining functions, and each substance will exaggerate the side effects of the others.
Individuals attempting suicide may intentionally ingest Nembutal with an alcoholic cocktail, ABC News reports. Death may be swift after taking Nembutal, whether intentional or not. Emotional trauma, high levels of stress, and lack of a good support system may contribute to Nembutal overdose risk. A person’s biological makeup, metabolism, and the amount of food ingested prior to taking Nembutal may affect the way it is broken down in the body and how much of the drug it may take to overwhelm the body’s system.
Any underlying medical or mental health disorders as well as family history of drug dependence and/or addiction can also play a role in a toxic overdose. The more often a person takes Nembutal, the more likely their brain and body are to become tolerant and then dependent on the substance. Drug tolerance can encourage a person to take more of the drug with each dose, and increased dosage raises the risk for a fatal overdose. When the brain and body become used to Nembutal, they may begin to rely on its presence, and drug cravings and significant withdrawal symptoms may occur when Nembutal then wears off. Individuals may then continue to take Nembutal in order to avoid these negative side effects. The more often a person takes a drug like Nembutal, the more likely they are to suffer an overdose.
The DEA warns that dependence on a barbiturate drug increases the odds for coma and death. When people who have become dependent on Nembutal do manage to stop taking it for a period of time and then suffer a relapse, or return to using it, the overdose risk is amplified as well. Tolerance levels may be reset during a period of abstinence. During a relapse, individuals may return to using Nembutal at previous amounts, which their body is not accustomed to, and overdose may result. No amount of Nembutal is safe when taken outside of a legitimate and necessary medical prescription.