Overdose of many psychoactive drugs (opiates, benzodiazepines and others) can cause respiratory arrest, which may lead to death. This appears in every prescribing information of said drugs, but I was unable to find anywhere if this adverse effect and the resulting death are accompanied with pain. Since opiates are administered for pain relief, perhaps the answer is no, but I wonder if anyone has a more established answer for this question.

And if the answer is indeed no (i.e. death by drug-induced respiratory depression is NOT painful), why wasn't it chosen as a method of execution instead of a lethal injection, which is more expensive and complicated?

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    General anaesthesia is not painful, so overdosing on anaesthetics is not painful either. I can’t tell you why the U.S. Government uses what for lethal “cocktails”, in my opinion that’s an abuse of medication.
    – Narusan
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 7:39
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    + Looking at the gas chamber: capital punishment is clearly designed and executed by mean people seeking revenge and punishment. The second paragraph has to be taken to Politics.SE to get some apologetes and sensible people to argue about that; maybe Philosophy.SE? This might only remain for some context, but will not be answered for the Health-side of it. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


If you think of committing suicide, you can find help here: 1-800-273-8255

No, it is not painful.

In fact, opiates and and benzodiazepines are used for assisted suicide and for Palliative medicine.

A 1992 nationwide study by one of the authors (G. van der Wal) on drugs used by Dutch general practitioners in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide showed that more than 40 different drugs were used. [9] In 30% of patients a single drug was used, most frequently a barbiturate or an opioid. In 57%, a combination of 2 drugs was given, most often a benzodiazepine or a barbiturate with a neuromus- cular relaxant (curare derivative). In this study, 75% of the drugs were given parenterally, 21% orally, and 3% rectally.

In the U.S., secobarbital is most commonly used.

Currently in Oregon, secobarbital is the medication most commonly prescribed for physician-assisted suicide, followed by pentobarbital.4 The lethal dose prescribed is typically 9 g of secobarbital in capsules or 10 g of pentobarbital liquid, to be consumed at one time.[4–6] The contents of the secobarbital capsules or the pentobarbital liquid should be mixed with a sweet substance such as juice to mask the bitter taste. Until the time of use, the medication must be stored out of reach of children and kept away from others to prevent unintentional overdose or abuse.

Inhaling nitrogen gas is another humane form of suicide.

Several organizations and sites in favor of suicide promotethe use of N 2 focusing on the following ‘‘pros.’’ First, deathinduced by N 2 gas is fast. Most people will lose consciousnessafter 12 seconds and then die within minutes. Besides, thismethod offers the prospect of a peaceful death because N 2 exists in the air. In that way, the intense hypercapnic alarm responsecaused by irritant fumes, such as carbon dioxide, is avoided.Moreover, the decedent’s reputation can remain intact, becauseonce the suicide device is removed from the scene, no tracesimplying the manner of death remain. Regarding the equipment,it is easy to obtain without drawing suspicion because it isavailable from hardware stores and via the Internet as well. Moreover, N 2 may serve as a suicidal gas, but when released, being lighter than the air, it disperses quickly, and it is not fatalto anyone that may stand next to the body during recovery.

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    Thanks a lot for your answer! And this is only for educational purposes, not thinking of suicide at all. It's great to be a part of a community of such caring and observant people.
    – Don_S
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 20:57
  • @Don_S That was my assumption, but I didn’t want to give a Guide kn how to commit suicide to other visitors of the site without the disclaimer at the top. You’re welcome!
    – Narusan
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 4:50

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