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Secobarbital sodium (marketed by Eli Lilly and Company, and subsequently by other companies as described below, under the brand name Seconal) is a barbiturate derivative drug that was patented in 1934 in the US. It possesses anaesthetic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, sedative, and hypnotic properties. In the United Kingdom, it was known as Quinalbarbitone.
Secobarbital is indicated for:
- Treatment of epilepsy
- Temporary treatment of insomnia
- Use as a preoperative medication to produce anaesthesia and anxiolysis in short surgical, diagnostic, or therapeutic procedures which are minimally painful.
Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, an India-based company now predominantly owned by the Japanese company Daiichi Sankyo, obtained the rights to market and to use the trade name "Seconal" from Eli Lilly in 1998, and did so until September 18, 2008. The actual manufacturer of Seconal subsequent to the time Eli Lilly manufactured the drug is Ohm Pharmaceuticals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ranbaxy. The rights to market Seconal were then sold to Marathon Pharmaceuticals, the current marketer / trade-name holder. However, Seconal is still manufactured by Ohm. In the United States, Seconal is available only in 100 mg capsules, as a sodium salt. The salt is a white hygroscopic powder that is soluble in water and ethanol.
The sodium salt of secobarbital is classified separately from the free acid, as follows:
- CAS number: 309-43-3
- Chemical formula: C12H18N2NaO3
- Molecular weight: 260.265
Possible side effects of secobarbital include:
- Impaired motor functions
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired balance
- Agitation, irritability, or excitability
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Allergic reactions
Secobarbital may produce psychological addiction and produces physical dependence if used for an extended period of time. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if long-term usage is abruptly ended, and can include:
- Lack of appetite
- Possible death as a result of withdrawal
Secobarbital was widely misused in the 1960s and 1970s, and accidental overdose was associated with the drug. It was linked with the death of Judy Garland, where the postmortem found that her blood contained the equivalent of ten 1.5-grain (97 mg) Seconal capsules. Consequently, prescription of Seconal decreased greatly, beginning in the early 1980s, by which time benzodiazepines had become increasingly common. Secobarbital has acquired many nicknames, the most common being "reds", "red devils", or "red dillies" (because of the color of the capsules). Other common nicknames are "seccies" and, according to the Wegman's School of Pharmacy curriculum, "red hearts." A less common nickname is "dolls"; this was partly responsible for the title of Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls, whose main characters use secobarbital and other such drugs.
Another celebrity death attributed to secobarbital was that of Anissa Jones (a child star who played Buffy on Family Affair) on August 28, 1976. It was detected in her system, along with cocaine, PCP and methaqualone, but it was the only pharmaceutical in her toxicology report which led to homicide charges against a vendor, that being Dr. Don Carlos Moshos, who dispensed it without a proper cause or examination (as well as for Jones' recreational use), according to a postmortem criminal investigation.
Use in physician assisted dying
Secobarbital, along with Pentobarbital, are the most common drugs prescribed under physician assisted dying laws in Oregon since 1998, Washington since 2008, Vermont since 2013, and New Mexico since 2014. Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited previously experienced various issues in their attempts to produce 100 mg secobarbital capsules. Currently, Marathon Pharmaceuticals is the sole marketer of the drug in the United States, although the drug remains manufactured by Ohm Laboratories.
- Lexi-Comp. "Secobarbital".
- US patent 1954429, Shonle, H. A., "Propyl-Methyl Carbinyl Allyl Barbituric Acid and its Salts", issued 1934-04-10, assigned to Eli Lilly
- "» Seconal Sodium®". Marathonpharma.com. 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
- Elizabeth Trice Loggers, M.D., Ph.D et al. (April 11, 2013). "Implementing a Death with Dignity Program at a Comprehensive Cancer Center". New England Journal of Medicine.
- "Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act 2013 Report" (PDF). Oregon Health Authority. January 28, 2014.
- Katrina Hedberg, M.D., M.P.H. et al. (March 6, 2003). "Five Years of Legal Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon". New England Journal of Medicine.
- Marathon Pharmaceuticals - Seconal Full prescribing information for the United States.
- Drugs.com - Secobarbital
- RxList.com - Secobarbital Consumer information.