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Everything You Need to Know About Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturates have been around for many years, and they can lead to abuse and addiction. However, many people aren’t as familiar with barbiturates addiction as they are with other drugs. It’s important to understand this drug, what it can do, the dangers associated with using and the options for treatment.

Barbiturates are drugs that act on the central nervous system. They are sedatives or hypnotic drugs that depress the central nervous system’s function in the body. Barbital was the first on of its kind, which was developed right around the turn of the 20th century, so they’ve been around for a very long time. Other popular versions include amobarbital or Amytal, secobarbital or Seconal and pentobarbital or Nembutal.

Facts about Barbiturate Use

There are various types of Barbiturates which are used for a number of reasons, and they all act differently within the brain and body. Short-acting barbiturates are used in anesthesia, and longer acting ones are used to treat convulsions. They are prescribed to treat a number of conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Tension
  • Behavioral Issues

Restrictions have been placed on these drugs, and the use of them has declined over the years in favor of other medications. They have lost popularity since the 1970s when they were in high use. However, recreational use has increased over the last few years, especially being used along with other drugs. It’s important to realize there is still a problem of addiction to barbiturates as the following statistics show.

Facts about Barbiturate Use
  • 9% of students in high school have admitted to taking barbiturates at least one time for recreational use
  • Surveys of high schoolers show that the use of this drug is on the rise even though it’s lower than it was in the 1970s
  • Approximately 1 out of every 3 households in America may have at least one container of the drug in the house at any time
  • Doctors write out 19 million prescriptions for patients every year
  • This medication was the cause of almost 400 deaths in 2013

While barbiturates aren’t talked about as much as other addictive drugs like heroin, it’s plain to see they are still a problem as these statistics indicate. In fact, because it doesn’t make the news as often, this drug can be even more dangerous than you might expect. Even though these drugs are highly addictive, it’s possible to get help and overcome addiction through drug detox and rehab. You just need to find the right program to treat this addiction if you or a loved one have been abusing it.

Are You an Addict?

Some people use barbiturates recreationally without becoming addicted. They may only use at parties or with friends. While this is still dangerous, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re addicted. Even though people use the terms “abuse” and “addiction” interchangeably, they have two different meanings.

It’s possible to obtain this drug from dealers on the street if you can’t get enough from different doctors or if you choose to use recreationally. Barbiturates are frequently abused, and they go by a number of different names on the streets, including:

  • Bluebirds
  • Dolls
  • Sleepers
  • Reds
  • Blues
  • Barbs
  • Downers

Someone who abuses barbiturates uses them without a prescription or in a way different than the instructions in the prescription. Just like with any other drug, they may use more than they should or at inappropriate times. The person may choose activities where they know the drug will be available. This person is engaging in drug abuse.

Barbiturate abuse statistics indicate that women are much more likely to receive a prescription because of the conditions they’re used to treat. For example, women who need help for insomnia, anxiety and depression are much more likely to reach out for help than men are. Statistics also indicate that elderly people are more apt to be prescribed barbiturates.

Barbibuate Abuse

Even so, anyone who is using these drugs can become addicted to them, but an addiction to barbiturates always begins with abuse. When they are taken, they produce a high that can last about six hours. These effects are magnified when the drugs are taken in higher dosages, or when they’re taken without a prescription when they’re not really needed. Abuse occurs when the drugs are used in a way that’s outside of the manner in which they were prescribed, or when they’ve been taken for too long a period of time.

Barbiturate addicts are those who take them because they feel they need them in order to feel normal again. There is often a fine line between abuse and addiction, and a addiction can develop very quickly, without the user ever being aware that it’s happening.

It may not be obvious to an outsider if the person using is just abusing or addicted. The difference lies in the need for the drug. When a person abuses a drug, over time the body comes to expect it. The system may develop a tolerance for the drug, which means the person must increase the amount used or how often they use to experience the high they seek.

Barbiturate Addiction

Because the body adjusts to the presence of the drug, it reacts when the drug isn’t in the system. This is termed withdrawal, and the person will probably find more of the drug to stop these symptoms. When this cycle occurs, the person is said to be addicted.

If you have a barbiturates addiction, or you think you may have an addiction to these dangerous drugs, you probably have a lot of questions you’d like to have answered. Questions such as:

  • What is the difference between barbiturate abuse and a full blown addiction?
  • What are addiction signs?
  • What are the effects of barbiturates, both long and short-term?
  • What are the symptoms of withdrawal?
  • Learning as many addiction facts as you can will help you understand more about these drugs and how they affect your body.

Addiction Symptoms to be Aware of

It is possible to be addicted to barbiturates and be unaware of your problem. This actually happens all the time in people whose doctors have had them on barbiturates for years because they’re the only thing that seems to help with their medical conditions.

Some common signs which may indicate you are addicted include:

Addiction Symptoms to be Aware of
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are stopped
  • Feeling as though the amount you’re taking isn’t working for you anymore
  • Increasing your dosage on your own
  • Hiding or being secretive about your use
  • Experiencing issues at home or work because of your use

When a person is abusing barbiturates, they will appear with symptoms similar to someone drinking too much alcohol. The abuse will impact their physical and mental health as well as other areas of their life. Some effects include the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A change in blood pressure
  • More sensitive to sounds and pain
  • Anxious and restless
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Neglecting care of oneself
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Problems in relationships

A person may exhibit any combination of these symptoms, and they often become worse as the person’s addiction grows stronger. If you have a friend or family member who has shown some of these symptoms and you suspect addiction, talk to them about their need for help.

The Impact They Have on Your Life and Health

Because barbiturates affect the central nervous system, it’s common for them to have a profound effect on the body. Changes can happen both in the short term and in the long term. It’s important for users and their family to understand what can happen as a result of taking barbiturates and how it can change their lives.

People who abuse Barbiturates are looking for the positive feelings that come with the drug. It lowers their inhibitions and provides a euphoric feeling. It can also make them feel sedated and sleepy, which is the prescribed purpose when given by a medical professional.

Use and the Short-Term Impact

The danger that comes with this drug is it doesn’t take much more to overdose than what is prescribed for sleep. A person can suffer the effects quickly from abuse. Some of the immediate changes you might notice when a person is abusing a barbiturate include the following:

  • Feeling sluggish or tired during the day
  • Having trouble thinking clearly
  • Becoming very drowsy
  • Becoming extremely dizzy
  • Memory loss
  • Dulled thinking; slow to respond
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor motor control, which leads to stumbling and dropping things
  • Irritation
  • Higher risk of bronchitis and pneumonia

A person who is abusing this drug may not realize they are showing these symptoms because their ability to rationalize is diminished. They are at greater risk for further injury because they don’t understand what’s going on or recognize there’s a problem.

While these issues can be serious, long-term abuse of this drug can cause even more significant problems. The person has an increased risk of kidney failure as well as respiratory depression. They may experience short- and long-term memory loss. There may be damage to the liver and heart, which could include cardiac arrest. A person could experience seizures and even go into a coma. Sexual dysfunction is another concern with long-term use of this drug. Many of these issues are permanent and cannot be reversed even when a person seeks addiction treatment.

Long-Term Effects of Barbiturate Addiction

The most dangerous aspect of addiction to barbiturates is the risk of death. Overdose can happen so easily a person may not realize what is happening. Because their senses are dulled and cognitive area is impacted, they may not remember the last time they used. Death from overdosing is more common with this type of drug with some other substances, but many people don’t realize the dangers until it’s too late.

It’s clear that these drugs are extremely dangerous and continuing on in a barbiturates addiction can have devastating, life-threatening consequences for those who refuse to get professional help from an addiction treatment center.

Because this medication is often given to deal with a mental health disorder, addiction may result in a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. What this means is the person suffers from both addiction and a mental health condition which are interrelated.

Treating this situation is more complicated, and you need to find a drug treatment program which specializes in co-occurring disorders. Even though it may be more difficult, it’s possible for the person to recover as long as both issues are addressed.

Treating the addiction without taking care of the mental health diagnosis will result in relapse for most people. They must have both conditions treated at once to prevent future problems. Another medication may be given for the mental health condition which is less likely to be addictive. Therapists may also try alternative treatments in place of medication to help with whatever condition is being treated.

It’s important that you let any medical professionals know of your past addiction history before treatment in the future. This ensures you aren’t given a medication which could lead to addiction or that addictive prescriptions are monitored closely.

Many people start using barbiturates for recreational purposes to offset the effects of other drugs such as cocaine. Cocaine and methamphetamines are stimulants that increase your alertness and excitement. The barbiturate is a downer or drug that relaxes the person after they have experienced the high from other drugs.

People who use this drug to attain the sedative effect it brings may combine it with sleeping pills, antihistamines or even alcohol to become extra relaxed. This increases the risk for overdosing and death.

Because this drug doesn’t receive the attention that others do today, many people aren’t aware of just how dangerous it is. They don’t understand that combining it with other drugs can be lethal.

Bellingham, WA Treatment Options for Addiction and Alcoholism

Understanding What Barbiturates Are

Barbiturates are medications that can be prescribed by a doctor to help with anxiety. They are sedatives. They also help to manage seizure disorders. There are times when they are used prior to operations as a sedative.

At one time, barbiturates were used regularly to treat conditions such as chronic headaches and insomnia. But this practice has mostly ceased because of how addictive they can be. The drug can be injected. However, most people take it in pill form.

The most commonly prescribed barbiturates are:

  • Luminal (phenobarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Fiorinal (butalbital)
  • Brevital (methohexital)
  • Butisol (butabarbital)

Development started on these drugs in the mid to late 1800’s. The Bayer company in Germany was the first to discover them. The first one was produced in 1864. They were almost the only sedative used from the 1920’s-1950’s. They’ve been used for executions and to put animals to sleep. This is a telling sign of how dangerous these drugs can be.

There are two primary ways a barbiturate addiction forms. The most common way is as a result of a prescription. Some people develop an addiction after getting the drug illegally. However, benzodiazepines are replacing phenobarbital and similar drugs. As a result, it’s more common to find addictions that start with a doctor’s prescription.  

An addiction usually happens in steps. Not all at once. You increase your dosage because you’ve developed a tolerance to the medications. When this occurs, you’re teaching your body that it needs barbiturates to survive.

Like many people, once you realize you’re addicted, you attempt to stop taking them. But it’s too late. Barbiturate rehabilitation is needed at this stage in order to get off these medications without a lot of withdrawal symptoms and side effects.

Despite being replaced by benzos, doctors still prescribe barbiturates for many conditions. The most common reason a doctor recommends the medication is for seizures. The powerful sedative effect the drug offers makes it effective at reducing or stopping seizures.

They are also prescribed for insomnia. However, this only happens in extreme cases. Other drugs offer help sleeping. They don’t have the same dangerous side effects, so they’re safer. The newer drugs are also much harder to overdose on.

Finally, barbiturates are used to treat severe headaches. This is fairly rare. Like with insomnia, they’re only used in extreme cases.

You’ll notice that there are other drugs that help all of the things you might use a barbiturate for. Doctors generally prefer using those other drugs. However, they still might recommend something like phenobarbital. This is especially true if someone is allergic or responds badly to the safer alternative.

Some people think that barbiturates are a drug of the past. While they’ve been replaced by benzos for many uses, there are still a lot of pills around. For example:

  • The United States legally produces more than 300 tons of the drug each year
  • 19 million prescriptions are written for barbiturates every year
  • Up to 33% of all drug-related deaths have barbiturates as a contributing factor
  • 1 in 3 US homes have at least one bottle of the drug at any given time

These facts show that the drug is still a problem. It may not be as popular recreationally as it was in the 1970’s, but it’s still out there.

Barbiturates depress the central nervous system, or CNS. The effects are similar to alcohol. But they are much more powerful. Depressing the CNS causes several side effects, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shallow breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Slow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache

These are only the immediate side effects. We’ll look at the results of long-term abuse and use in the next section. It’s important to note that these side effects are more serious than they sound. They aren’t just uncomfortable. They create serious risks. Many of them, like slow breathing and reduced heart rate, can cause death.

Also, they can stop you from going about your normal life. After all, it’s hard to get things done if you’re always dizzy or sleepy. This can cause missed appointments and deadlines. It also reduces your performance at work and at home.

Barbiturate abuse happens when you take the drug without a prescription. It also happens if you take it more than your doctor recommends. Studies suggest that one of the most important things about abuse and tolerance is the gamma-aminobutyric acid A receptor (GABAA). This receptor plays a key role in the development of tolerance and dependence for barbiturates.

Abuse and tolerance are a vicious cycle. Tolerance leads to abuse to get the same effects. The increased abuse causes more tolerance.

Also, the whole time, the body and brain get more and more used to the drug. As a result, they start to expect it. They adjust the way they operate. Instead of functioning normally, they function as if the drug will be there.

People also go to extra levels to abuse the drug. Some people crush it up and snort it. Others grind it to a powder and inject it. These steps increase the power of the drug. They make it work faster and more intensely. But they also increase tolerance. The result is a need for more and more of the drug to get the same effects.

This situation is especially dangerous. The risk of overdose increases as tolerance goes up. That’s because there’s only so much of the drug the body can handle. Tolerance works different for the brain and the body. The amount of the drug needed to get high might be more than the body can handle.

Many people who abuse barbiturates also abuse other recreational drugs. This is known as polydrug abuse. It’s especially dangerous.

Drugs affect the body in different ways. The human body is very complex. There are lots of things that go into its functions. Taking barbiturates with other drugs increases the overall effect on your body. For example, it’s very dangerous to take these drugs with opioids.

Both drugs work on the central nervous system. This system controls important things like breathing and heart rate. Mixing drugs increases the effect on the central nervous system. As a result, this increases the chance of an overdose and death.

Polydrug abuse requires specialized treatment. Doctors need to consider all of the different angles. Complex treatments are needed to cover everything that’s happening to the body. In fact, barbiturates with other drugs have caused some famous celebrity deaths.

Tragic Examples of Barbiturate Overdoses

Most barbiturate overdoses are accidents. However, they can still have tragic results. It may surprise some people to find out that the drug caused several celebrity deaths. Two of the most well-known individuals include Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix.

Marilyn Monroe was a famous actress and model. She was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s. Nearly everyone has seen the famous picture of her holding down her dress as a burst of air from the subway pushes it up.

Marilyn worked on both popular and critically acclaimed films. Despite her success, she had problems. She was married three times. Her husband's include famous playwright Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, a baseball hall of famer.

She also struggled with depression and anxiety. This could be because of her rough childhood. It could also be from the pressures of being famous. These situations caused her to develop substance abuse issues. Her doctors prescribed barbiturates.

When she died she had a 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital in her blood and a 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver.  There’s a lot controversy over her death. Some people claim it was a conspiracy. The coroner ruled it a suicide. No matter what, it was tragic and preventable.

Jimi Hendrix is one of the most famous rock musicians of all time. In his short career he earned widespread popular and critical praise. He pioneered several innovative musical techniques artists still use today. These include using a wah-wah pedal and stereophonic phasing.

Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. He was in London at the time. The corner determined that he died by choking on his own vomit. The drug suppressed important body functions. These complications proved to be fatal.

He had taken nine Vesparax sleeping tablets. That’s a type of barbiturate used as a sleeping aid at the time. The 9 tablet dosage he took was 18 times the recommended dose. As a result, his body couldn’t properly function. This lead to his choking, suffocation, and death.

The short-term side effects of barbiturates are scary enough. The effects of long-term use are even more terrifying. Prolonged use can result in several effects. These include:

  • Addiction and dependence – people who take the drug for a long time develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug.
  • Birth defects – studies show that using substances like phenobarbital can cause birth defects.
  • Cognitive problems in children – children who use barbiturates are more likely to have problems with learning, memory, attention, problem solving, and judgement.
  • Cognitive problems in adults – long-term use is associated with memory, attention, speech, and problem-solving issues in adults. These problems tend to get worse the longer the drug is used.
  • Cancer – studies on animals and humans found that using barbiturates is associated with higher rates of liver cancer. Other types of cancer, like brain tumors in children and renal cancer, have also been found.
  • Skin – the effects of the drug increase the risk of dermatological issues.
  • Bone health – Long-term use increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, bone fractures, palmar fibromatosis, and other bone problems.
  • Breathing problems – barbiturates slow the heart and breathing. Over time, this can result in chronic hypoxia. That’s a condition where the organs aren’t getting enough oxygen.
  • Mental health problems – Mood disorders like confusion, depression, mood swings, paradoxical reactions, nightmares, panic attacks, and phobias are more common in long-term users.

Given the terrible consequences, it’s important to break free of barbiturate addiction. The best way to avoid problems is avoid the drug entirely. If you need the drug, then you should only take it as instructed by a doctor.

However, addictions and dependence still happen. You should know that hope is not lost. There are ways to break free of barbiturate dependence. We’ll look at that next.

Do You Need Treatment for Abuse or Addiction?

If you recognize yourself in this description of drug abuse or addiction, you may realize you need to stop taking whatever barbiturate you have. However, you may not see the need for a formal drug treatment plan. Before you decide this situation is something you can handle on your own, you need to understand about the risks of withdrawal and the need for detox.

It’s important to understand the risks associated with barbiturate withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking these drugs abruptly. Even when the dosages are lowered slowly, the risks are very real. This is why professional treatment is always recommended when stopping.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Breathing issues, including stopping breathing
  • Circulation problems
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Risk of seizures
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Onset of a fever
  • Risk of suicidal behaviors

Unfortunately, there are those who decide to stop taking barbiturates without professional supervision once they discover that they have an addiction. These are the ones who are at risk the most. Even without a significant medical history, any one of these withdrawal symptoms can strike at any moment.

Barbiturates addiction treatment options are available that can aid in the process of recovering from this type of addiction. In a medically monitored atmosphere, dosages can be lowered and withdrawal symptoms can be managed properly. Also, medical intervention can be obtained immediately at the first sign of a problem.

As you can see with the list of risks for withdrawal from barbiturates, it’s best not to try this step of recovery on your own. If you’ve been using the drug for recreational purposes and only on occasion, it may be safe to stop using without medical help. However, for those with long-term use or those who became addicted after taking a prescription, they face more challenges which can better be handled in a detox center.

If you received the prescription for anxiety or another medical condition, you must realize you will have difficulty managing the condition while trying to get your system back to normal. In most situations, detox at a treatment center is the safest option. It also reduces the risk that you’ll relapse before you begin rehab treatment.

Detox can take several days or even longer if it’s decided that you need to go through the process more slowly. You may be weaned off the drug by reducing it a little at a time. This option is best for those who are at higher risk for medical complications or those who have been using for a long time.

In some cases, it may be decided that you need medications to help you detox. The term for this is medical detox. It’s most often used for people who have severe withdrawal symptoms. Medication may be given to help reduce these symptoms, especially if they include mental symptoms like severe anxiety or hallucinations.

Addiction Treatment Programs in Washington State

If you have many of the signs of barbiturate addiction, it’s important to consider getting help so that you can recover from it. It’s possible that you didn’t mean to become addicted to these dangerous drugs, and now that you are addicted, you’re not sure what to do or where to turn for help.

You’ve probably heard about drug treatment centers in your area, but you may assume they are only for people with addiction to illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine. The truth is many rehab facilities also treat prescription drug addiction. They offer detox for those who need help to stop using. There are also various treatment programs to aid in long-term recovery.

Treating abuse or addiction of barbiturates is similar to any other drug. You’ll need to stop using the drug or go through detox. Then, you’ll need to enter a treatment facility to help you overcome your addiction. You have several options for treatment.

  • Outpatient rehab – if you’ve only been abusing the drug or been addicted for a short time, outpatient rehab may be a viable option. You will attend therapy several times a week until your treatment is complete.
  • Inpatient rehab – with this option, you will stay in the treatment center for several days or up to 30 days while receiving therapy.
  • Residential rehab – with this program, you may stay in a facility for longer than 30 days to help you treat your addiction.
  • Intensive outpatient therapy – this option is a cross between inpatient and outpatient where you attend treatment all day every day but go home at night.

You may also find 12 step programs helpful where you find a meeting with Narcotics Anonymous or another organization to help you stay clean. One of the issues that are special to prescription drugs like barbiturates is that the condition they were originally prescribed for must still be treated if it’s a continuing problem. So, in addition to treating your addiction, medical staff must deal with your original health issue while ensuring they don’t prescribe another drug which leads to addiction.

Treatment will be similar for barbiturate addiction as for other addictive substances. You’ll attend individual therapy where you will learn what caused the addiction and how it happened. You’ll recognize the triggers which will be different for someone who was prescribed the medicine versus someone who used it recreationally.

Group therapy will likely be part of your therapy plan as you meet with others who have suffered addiction from prescription medications and other drugs. While your stories may be different, your concerns about living life without the drugs will be the same. The support you receive in these meetings will become valuable and help you make the transition to life after drug abuse.

Medication therapy may be required to treat the original diagnosis if you were prescribed a barbiturate. The doctor will need to determine a safe way to handle your condition without causing future dependence on drugs.

You may find programs which offer alternative therapy. For example, yoga is offered at many drug rehab centers. It teaches you how to use breathing and relaxation to help with addiction, which can also be important for your other condition as well.

More drug rehab facilities are recognizing the need to treat the entire person for drug addiction. Rather than just focusing on helping them stop abusing drugs, they work on restoring the body to a healthier state through nutrition and exercise. Nowhere is this more important than with prescription drug abuse and addiction. These programs can help reduce the symptoms of the condition the person was originally being treated for in the first place.

For example, a person who was being treated for severe anxiety may find they are better able to handle it naturally without the use of drugs if they exercise regularly and get the right nutrition. A holistic approach for drug treatment centers focuses on the whole person and not just their drug addiction.

When Your Loved One has an Addiction to Barbiturates

It’s hard to watch your family member or close friend abuse barbiturates. Maybe you can see the problem and they can’t. It can make you feel helpless if you can’t get them to listen to your concerns.

If you are worried about your loved one, you can tell them of your fears. Talk to them in a non confrontational way so they don’t get defensive but convince them to listen to you. In some cases, they may not realize what they’re doing. It’s common for people to adjust dosages of medication from what is prescribed even if they shouldn’t. However, the person may not realize the risks of doing this with the barbiturates.

If the person is using the drug for recreation, you need to explain the dangers. Let them know how even a small increase can harm them. Provide factual information that won’t make them defensive but shows the facts in a non-judgmental way. If you can’t get through to them on your own, you may need to have an intervention.

An intervention is a time when people who care about the person using get together to talk to them. With multiple people communicating the same message, it can help the person see their need for professional assistance. If you aren’t sure how to organize an intervention or what to do, you can contact Northpoint Washington for our intervention services.

A professional intervention counselor not only organizes the event, but they teach you how to communicate with the person and even what to say. If the person agrees to go for treatment, they often can be admitted immediately, which reduces the chance they will change their mind. Statistics show that interventions have a high rate of success for addiction.

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Get Help with Drug Treatment in Washington State

You see the dangers of abusing barbiturates and what can happen when you become addicted. You also now know the importance of seeking help from a drug treatment center for detoxing and rehab. The next step is to find a facility that provides the treatment you need.

Fortunately, you have Northpoint Washington to help with your drug addiction. We provide a modern facility with a low patient to staff ratio so you can get the attention you need to begin recovery. You don’t have to feel embarrassed or ashamed about your addiction. Everyone here has the same goal which is to help you begin a new life without drugs.

In addition to individual and group therapy, Northpoint Washington features a holistic approach with a nutrition program and plenty of opportunities to exercise. We realize that by treating the whole person, we increase the chance of long-term success in recovery.

At Northpoint Washington, we want you to know that we’re here for you. We understand how you feel, and the right kind of help is available. Contact us to learn more.

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