Amytal has emerged in the news in recent years, particularly in situations involving inmates and a convicted murderer. The synthetic barbiturate, also known as amobarbital, is so deadly that it is one of several barbiturates that California proposed for prison officials to use when administering lethal injections to inmates.
And in one Colorado case, a judge approved giving a “truth serum” to accused mass killer James Holmes if Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2012 Aurora shootings that took place at a movie theater. Slate wrote in 2013 that the drug prosecutors likely would have used is amobarbital, a white, odorless, and bitter-tasting substance that could have potentially lowered Holmes’ defenses and revealed if he had been feigning mental illness.
From the looks of it, the controversial ruling did not hold, Holmes was not drugged and was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Amytal’s potency has not gone unnoticed by those in other circles. Some people abuse it at the risk of developing an addiction that they can’t seem to break. While the medication is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act and is still legal for use in the U.S., it should not be done without being under the supervision of a doctor. In fact, licensed medical professionals are the only people who can administer the drug illegally, which means if a person is not a medical practitioner but has it, then they have the drug in their possession illegally.
Amytal, or amobarbital sodium, is a barbiturate used for its sedative and anti-anxiety effects. Barbiturate medications are derived from barbituric acid. They depress the central nervous system and produce a wide range of effects on the body, ranging from mild sedation to coma. Barbiturates have been phased out by benzodiazepines because the latter has been seen as safer for use. Barbiturates are highly dangerous because it can be difficult to determine a standard dose from a lethal one.
Amytal can make people who use it feel intoxicating effects that are similar to those of alcohol. Many users have turned to barbiturates such as Amytal to help them get to sleep or stay asleep or to relieve stress and anxiety. When this medication is prescribed to treat these issues, it is for the short-term, which is no more than X weeks.
Regular barbiturate use can be habit-forming, and prolonged use can lead to tolerance, physical and psychological dependence, and addiction. According to RXList.com, “Daily administration in excess of 400 mg of pentobarbital or secobarbital for approximately 90 days is likely to produce some degree of physical dependence.”
RxList goes on to say that as tolerance to Amytal grows; more will be needed to maintain the level of intoxication one has become used to. There’s also another problem with using more Amytal than one should: the margin between an intoxicating dose and a fatal one grows smaller each time one uses it, as tolerance to a fatal dose does not increase more than twofold, according to the medical site.
Amytal, as with other barbiturates, can be abused. Medications in this class are abused for their euphoric effects. Common ways to abuse Amytal include crushing up the pills into a powder that can be inhaled, added to a liquid, or injected intravenously. Taking more Amytal than prescribed or taking it longer than the prescribed period also counts as abuse of the drug.
Chronic Amytal use can cause dependence or addiction. Once some users realize they are on a slippery slope, they understandably try to stop their use. While this is strongly advised, suddenly stopping one’s Amytal use is strongly discouraged. Still, there will be frequent or longtime users of this drug who decide that quitting suddenly after chronic use is the way to go. Read on to find out what to expect once Amytal withdrawal begins.
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Once Amytal dependence has set in, many users find it difficult to stop using it, and that can be detrimental to their health and well-being. Should they decide to quit the drug suddenly, they may notice changes in how they feel, think, and act, and that their bodies may not function the same. When this happens, it’s likely that they have entered into withdrawal, and this period can be dark and dangerous without the medical attention required to get through it safely.
If you or someone you know is having withdrawal symptoms, you may be wondering how long this period lasts. Amytal withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, as individuals are different. Many factors must be taken into consideration.
Withdrawal symptoms usually happen in stages. Here’s what Amytal withdrawal timeline can look like based on users’ withdrawal experiences. For specifics, consult your physician about your situation.
Within 24 hours of the last dose, users may feel increasingly anxious, and their blood pressure may spike. They also may have body or muscle aches, nausea, or a headache. The severity of the symptoms experienced will depend on several factors such as how large the dose was and long the drug has been used.
At this stage, symptoms usually build in intensity before peaking within the first two to four days. Heavy or frequent Amytal users may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, seizures, and psychosis, which are better managed in the care of medical professionals who can monitor the individual. Challenging withdrawal symptoms may require medication to make them more manageable.
Now that some time has passed, most of the physical withdrawal symptoms will lessen in severity between the fifth and eighth days. However, some symptoms may stick around for a full week or two. Many recovering Amytal users report that all physical withdrawal symptoms have subsided at this stage. Psychological symptoms may linger on for several months up to a year, depending on various factors. Cravings, anxiety, or depression may also continue.
Amytal users who want to safely end their dependence of addiction to Amytal will want to consider undergoing a medical detox that ensures that they come off the drug slowly and safely. Quitting any drug cold turkey, or abruptly, is dangerous to the body and could be a fatal mistake. Once the body has gotten used to a drug being in its system, abruptly discontinuing that drug can send the system into shock, causing life-threatening symptoms such as hypothermia, seizures, and psychosis.
Detox allows the body to slowly adjust to the drug’s absence and helps stabilize the user as they sober up. This process, which can last up to a week or longer if needed, is monitored by a team of physicians and addiction care specialists who understand withdrawal and how to best treat it. Substance users who enter into detox will be assessed to determine the state of their health and how far along their addiction is.
A medical detox involves more weaning off the drug. Recovering users will complete medical exams that include drug screenings. Extra tests such as a complete blood count, known as a CBC, a chest X-ray, and electrocardiogram (ECG), among other exams may be completed at this time.
After all health and wellness assessments are done, your physician will determine which treatment setting is more appropriate for you or your loved one. If exams determine a mental health disorder is present, placement in a facility that provides treatment for dual diagnosis may be recommended. Dually diagnosed people have a better chance of recovery if both their substance use disorder and mental health disorder are addressed at the same time.
Detox is just the beginning of the road to recovery. You have to heal your mind as well as your body to recover from substance abuse. Treatment is designed to allow you the time you need to recover as well as lead you to an understanding of your addiction and the reasons behind it. A continuum of care covers the entire journey of recovering from substance use disorders. Not everyone will need to go through the entire continuum, but the more steps one completes, the better their chances are of having an effective treatment.
Based on the results of your assessment and your unique situation, you may be placed in an inpatient or residential setting, partial hospitalization, or outpatient care. Many people enter either a residential program or an outpatient program.
Residential treatment programs can run from 28 to 90 days or longer if needed. Clients in this setting have 24/7 access to medical staff and supervision as they live on-site at the treatment facility full time. This is the best setting for people who need minimal distractions as they focus on their recovery in a structured environment. They will gain insight and tools through therapies and various activities and learn how to healthily cope with stress, triggers, and the possibility of relapse, which commonly happens in recovery from addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction relapse rates are from 40 to 60 percent, which is similar to those of other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. That’s because addiction is a disease, and its chronic nature means it likely will need to be a lifelong effort to manage it. Fortunately, addiction is treatable, and relapse is preventable with the right guidance and environment.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) serve as a middle ground between inpatient/residential and outpatient programs. This setting is best for people who are ready to move on from inpatient treatment but need more time to adjust to post-addiction life before they can live on their own. PHPs offer a moderately structured setting that provides more flexibility. Clients do not have 24-hour access to medical care and are responsible for taking their own medications and meeting their weekly commitments for therapy.
Outpatient programs offer the most flexibility and appeal to many because of its affordability. It is recommended for people who have mild substance use disorders as well as those who feel on the verge of relapse or perhaps need more support to stay committed to their recovery goals.
Outpatient allows clients to set their own treatment schedule, which is especially important for people who have obligations that they cannot step away from, such as a job, childcare, or school. This setting offers the same kinds of therapies one would find in an on-site residential program.
Outpatient requires clients to meet a certain number of hours of therapy weekly, but unlike the other two settings mentioned, clients are solely responsible for keeping their environment free of temptations and any other outside influences that would jeopardize their recovery.
Amytal abuse that results in dependence or addiction can complicate one’s health and lead to death if not appropriately treated by medical professionals. There’s no need to take that risk when addiction treatment is available. If you or a loved one needs help with recovering from Amytal withdrawal, contact our admissions specialists at California Highlands Addiction Treatment (CHAT) for free and confidential help.
You can call us at (855) 905-0828 or reach out to us online. We are here to help you get the guidance and support you need to start your recovery from addiction. Share your questions and concerns with us, and learn about the programs we offer.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018, June). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide. from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2018-06/drug_of_abuse.pdf
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, September). Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000951.htm
Amytal Sodium: Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (2017, June). from https://www.rxlist.com/amytal-sodium-drug.htm
(March 2018). Barbiturate intoxication and overdose. Medline Plus. from https://medlineplus.gov/
Palmer, Brian. (2013 March). “Too High to Lie.” from https://slate.com/technology/2013/03/james-holmes-truth-serum-can-a-drug-reveal-whether-someone-is-lying.html
Stoltze, Frank. (2016, May). “California Considers Making Its Own Lethal Drugs for the Death Penalty.” from https://www.scpr.org/news/2016/05/17/60667/california-considers-making-its-own-lethal-drugs-f/