Risk of drug dependence and abuse posed by barbiturate-containing analgesics

Can J Clin Pharmacol. Spring 1999;6(1):18-25.


Concern has been raised that the barbiturate component of barbiturate-containing analgesics constitutes a public and individual health problem because of information from literature before 1966 concerning preclinical and clinical abuse liability, and the dependence risk of barbiturates. The safety of barbiturates alone and in combination in analgesics was reviewed. In addition, information from manufacturers of combination products were evaluated. A meta-analysis was not possible because of the paucity of formal clinical trials. Even though barbiturates have a narrow margin of safety and substantial abuse potential, there is no evidence that barbiturate-containing analgesics without codeine represent a public health or social problem because of their abuse potential. However, proper studies to confirm this theory have not been performed. In the absence of better data concerning efficacy and lack of dependence potential, barbiturate-containing analgesics are not first-line medications for the initiation of treatment for pain. Codeine-containing combination analgesics have the potential to be a more important public health problem than those with only barbiturate in the combination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / adverse effects*
  • Barbiturates / adverse effects*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Humans
  • Risk
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*


  • Analgesics
  • Barbiturates
  • Drug Combinations