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Newborn and Infant Care

Long/short term side effects of barbituates



I am a foster parent of a 7 month old whom I have had since he was 5 weeks. He was born drug exposed (not drug addicted) to barbiturates. Unknown which type, possibly Seconal. I would like to have any information you could provide on what to expect from this child in relation to physical sypmtoms, behavior, ect. in the years to come. I can find much information on crack babies but not much on in utero exposure to barbiturates. A test was done at birth to determine if cocaine was in his system and the test was negative. I do realize though that this still could be a possibility that he is a cocaine baby since that drug apparently leaves your system faster than barbiturates do. Thank you for your time and any information you can provide.


The effects of abuse of barbiturates or other sedatives on the long term outcome of the infant are not well-known because their use by mothers was not routinely identified.

Barbiturates are central nervous system depressants that are used as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics, and anticonvulsives.

Barbiturates are dangerous drugs that have a narrow therapeutic index (the dose required for the desired effect and the dose that leads to coma or death). They are physiologically addicting if taken in high doses over one month or more, and the abrupt withdrawal can be lifethreatening.

Maternal abuse of barbiturates in early pregnancy may cause severe birth defects. Pregnant women who take barbiturates in the last trimester (last three months) can give birth to addicted infants who undergo an extended withdrawal syndrome. Addicted mothers may use barbiturates to manage the unpleasant side effects of illicit drugs or reduce anxiety; so they may be used in addition to other substance abuse cases.

Answered by: Judy Wright Lott, RNC, DSN,NNP

References: Copley, SM. (1997). Barbiturates. Pediatric Review, 18, 260-265.

Ito,T., Suziki,T., Wellman, SE,& Ho, IK. (1996). Pharmacology of barbiturate tolerance/dependence: GABAA receptors and molecular aspects. Life Science, 59, 169-195.

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Response by:

Tina   Weitkamp, RNC, MSN Tina Weitkamp, RNC, MSN
Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati