A Protocol for Butalbital, Aspirin and Caffeine (BAC) Detoxification in Headache Patients


  • George H. Sands

    1. Department of Neurology of Long Island Jewish Medical Center
    2. Department of Neurology Long Island Campus for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and
    3. Department of Neurology Queens Hospital Center, Jamaica, N.Y.
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  • Presented in part at the 31st annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Headache, Boston, Mass.



The abuse of the combination drug containing butalbital 50 mg, aspirin 325 mg and caffeine 40 mg (or BAC), is commonly recognized by headache specialists as causing headaches. Despite this widespread problem, there is not a published treatment regimen for the BAC detoxification of patients. I describe such a protocol which was used four times in three patients. These patients fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of the IHS Headache Classification for headaches induced by chronic substance abuse (8.2) and analgesics abuse headache (8.2.2). These patients took between 150 and 420 BAC/month for 2–15 years. Two patients had previously undergone inpatient detoxification. One patient unsuccessfully tried detoxification twice as an outpatient.

All patients were required to have psychological support prior to hospitalization for this protocol. BAC was discontinued. A pentobarbital challenge test corroborated butalbital dosage. The patients were given phenobarbital and caffeine which were tapered over several days. Dihydroergotamine (DHE) with metoclopramide was used (Raskin). Propranolol 60 mg bid was started. No narcotics were permitted. After hospital discharge, patients were allowed to continue subcutaneous DHE, as needed. One patient restarted BAC use after 8 months without it. The other two patients were still BAC free 18 and 14 months after detoxification.