Desperate opioid addicts overdosing on diarrhea drug

Opioid addicts having trouble getting their drugs are turning to an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication to get high. At extremely high doses, loperimide, better known as Imodium, can produce a high or ease withdrawal symptoms from opioids.

Loperamide overdoses are rising along with the national opioid epidemic.

“It’s a cheap, legal, and easily accessible opioid alternative,” said William Eggleston, a clinical toxicologist at SUNY Upstate Medical University who authored a 2016 case report about two men who died by overdosing on loperamide. Such case reports have become more common in states such as Texas, Arizona, and Rhode Island. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of calls made nationally to poison centers for intentional loperamide exposure more than doubled. The FDA has alerted doctors to watch for loperamide abuse.

Being an easily-accessible, over-the-counter medication, loperamide is extremely safe at recommended doses for treating diarrhea, yet it takes much more than that to get high from the drug. According to Eggleston, some people take 400 or 500 tablets a day. “They put it in a blender and make a smoothie and drink it over one or two hours,” he said. Loperamide tablets are available in quantity online. Four-hundred tablets can be purchased for just over $10.

Extremely large doses of loperamide block calcium channels, challenging the heart to keep a regular rhythm, sometimes leading to death. Somwail Rasla, an internal medicine resident at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, said about loperamide abuse, “We will see more cases because the more [there are] on opioids, the more doctors are afraid of trying to extend their prescriptions, the more people will seek different substances.”

Eggleston contended that the same phenomena occurred with heroin. When doctors became more judicious writing prescriptions for painkillers, people sought alternatives such as heroin and fentanyl—and now loperamide.

H/T: The Atlantic

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