A 50-year-old woman presented with coma caused by a phenobarbital overdose, requiring intubation and admission to critical care. She was an international visitor and had been prescribed the drug for night-sedation. Phenobarbital is a long-acting barbiturate, which in an overdose can cause central nervous system depression, respiratory failure and haemodynamic instability; these patients can remain obtunded for many days. After initial supportive therapy, she was dialysed to help in the elimination of the drug. Haemodialysis resulted in a markedly reduced plasma level of phenobarbital, which decreased the length of intubation and stay in the critical care unit and aided full recovery.
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