“Folks that are desperately addicted, folks that are looking to stave off withdrawal symptoms will do whatever it takes sometimes, really extreme things.”
~ Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, Family and Children’s Association
A surprising new trend is happening among opioid addicts—the misuse of over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication to get high. In fact, the abuse of loperamide has become so prevalent that the Food and Drug Administration is urging manufacturers to change the way the medication is packaged in an effort to limit the number of pills that can be purchased at one time.
First Things First—What is Loperamide?
Loperamide—known primarily by the brand name Imodium—is a medication taken to reduce the frequency of diarrhea. Taken as directed, it is a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication. In fact, the World Health Organization lists loperamide as an “Essential Medicine”.
Why is Loperamide Abused?
“It’s been likened to a poor man’s methadone. At high doses, it will cause effects like methadone or OxyContin.”
~ Dr. David Juurlink, drug safety researcher
But at extremely high doses, loperamide gives opioid-dependent addicts a euphoric high and helps ease the unpleasant symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
How high a dose?
The recommended dose for OTC loperamide use is just 8 mg per day, and the prescription-level daily dose is 16 mg, the equivalent of 8 Imodium capsules.
However, people who abuse loperamide will take between 50 and 300 pills a day. Some abusers will crush the pills in a blender, making a smoothie they can drink—a “lope cocktail”.
The Dangers of Loperamide Abuse
“We are starting to see more and more people coming to a hospital or just dying suddenly at home courtesy of this drug that most of us perceive as pretty innocuous.”
~ Dr. Juurlink
At dosages of abuse, the medication can depress respiration, just like an opioid. But it can also have a direct effect on the abuser’s heart. In 2016, the FDA issued a safety alert warning that exceeding recommended dosages may cause serious heart problems that could result in death—“loperamide-induced cardiac toxicity”.
And here’s the thing—while the emergency drug Naloxone can reverse and opioid overdose, it does nothing for the heart damage caused by loperamide abuse. Dr. Juurlink says, “…we don’t have a magic drug that we can just give to reverse it.”
What Does All of This Mean?
The fact that desperate opioid addicts will resort to abusing massive amounts of anti-diarrhea medication to get high clearly demonstrates that recovery from addiction involves MORE than simply quitting a specific substance.
True sobriety requires long-term structure and support that incorporates the most-accepted evidence-based treatment strategies—psychosocial counseling, peer group therapy, lifestyle changes, and, if necessary, FDA-approved medications to ease cravings.
If you are trying to regain your sobriety but are still struggling with substance use, Lasting Recovery—a premier outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego—can help. Regain your life by contacting Lasting Recovery today.
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