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Pediatr Rev. 1997 Aug;18(8):260-4; quiz 265.


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  • 1Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA.


Barbiturate use by adolescents has increased gradually in the past several years, but few adolescents use this class of drugs regularly. Instead, these sedatives are used most often to treat unpleasant effects of illicit stimulants, to reduce anxiety, and to get "high". Short-acting barbiturates such as pentobarbital and secobarbital are the preferred drugs of abuse. Barbiturates are dangerous drugs, with a narrow therapeutic index between the dose required for sedation and the dose that will cause coma and death. They are physiologically addicting if taken in high doses over 1 month or more, and the abstinence syndrome can be life-threatening. Pregnant women who take barbiturates during the third trimester can give birth to addicted infants who undergo an extended withdrawal syndrome. It is important to educate adolescent patients about the hazards of sedative/hypnotic use, particularly frequent barbiturate use. As indicated in the findings from the 1995 annual survey of United States high school seniors, many young people are not aware of the significant danger and toxicity of this class of drugs.

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