In The Know Zone

What are Prescription Sedatives, Tranquilizers, and Painkillers?

Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are prescription drugs from the sedative-hypnotic group.

Barbiturates were developed in the 1860s, and in 1903 the first barbiturate ("barbital") was used in medical practices. Over the years barbiturates have been prescribed to induce sleep, for relief of anxiety, and for treatment of seizure disorders. The addictiveness of barbiturates and the high incidence of overdose caused scientists to continue to look for safer drugs in this category. Stricter guidelines dictating barbiturate use have led to decreased availability of these drugs.

Some common barbiturates are pentobarbital (Nembutal®,) mephobarbital, (Mebaral®,) secobarbital (Seconal® or Tuinal®,) amobarbital (Amytal®,) and phenobarbital (Luminal®.) Barbiturates are usually bright colored capsules.

Benzodiazepines were formulated in 1957 and were first used in medical practice in the 1960s. Benzodiazepines were considered safer than barbiturates, and have now replaced barbiturates for many applications. However, like barbiturates, they are highly addictive. Benzodiazepines are also used as anxiety-reducing agents, as muscle relaxants, for insomnia, and for convulsions.

Some common benzodiazepines are lorazepam (Ativan®,) alprazolam (Xanax®,) triazolam (Halcion®,) clonazepam (Klonopin®,) clordiazepoxide (Librium®,) diazepam (Valium®,) clorazepate (Tranxene®,) and oxazepam (Serax®.) Benzodiazepines, like barbiturates, are usually bright colored capsules


Barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and opioids are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they slow down the CNS and then the rest of the body. When two or more CNS depressants are used, the CNS slows down drastically, perhaps stopping altogether. For this reason, combining alcohol with any of these drugs is often fatal.

Opioid Analgesics (Prescription Painkillers)

Opiates are derived from the opium poppy plant, and opioids are synthetic opiates. Morphine, opium, codeine, heroin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Percodan, and others are some of the drugs in this group. Opium and heroin are not used by prescription or in hospitals. Morphine is used primarily in the hospital setting.

Morphine is a potent pain reliever. It is the standard by which other pain-relieving drugs are measured. However, morphine produces tolerance (the increasing need for more of the drug) rapidly, and other forms of physical dependence follow quickly. In addition to relieving pain, opiate derivatives such as codeine also suppress coughing and reduce movements of the intestine -- providing relief from diarrhea.

Some common names of opioid analgesics (painkillers) are hydrocodone (Vicodin® or Lortab®,) oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®, or Percocet®,) propoxyphene (Darvocet®,) meperidine (Demerol®,) and codeine or medicines containing codeine.

In The Know: Substance Abuse Pamphlet/ DVD Package
"In the Know: Tranquilizers and Painkillers, Down and Out" Pamphlet
In The Know: Substance Abuse DVD Package