After discovering a heap of empty Imodium A-D boxes in a teen’s bedroom, an Upstate New York mother wasn’t aware that her son was struggling with stomach issues that would require so much of the popular over-the-counter drug to treat diarrhea. As she would soon find out, that’s not at all why he was using it.
A growing number of drug addicts have begun abusing a cheap but lethal over-the-counter drug cocktail to obtain a heroin-like high.
Dr. William D. Eggleston, a clinical toxicologist at the Upstate New York Poison Center in Syracuse, said his office at Upstate Medical University has experienced a seven-fold increase in calls regarding the abuse of Imodium and other antidiuretic medications containing the drug loperamide between 2011 and 2015.
“Most people don’t recognize — because it’s an over-the-counter-drug — that Imodium is an opioid just like morphine or heroin,” Dr. Eggleston said. “So, if someone takes the right number of Imodium, they will experience that heroin-like high.”
Because the body does not absorb loperamide as readily as it does other opiates, Dr. Eggleston said users who take Imodium as directed will not experience a high. However, he said, many addicts will take dozens of tablets all at once to mimic the effects of heroin or to manage withdrawal symptoms.
He said some users will even blend hundreds of pills into an “Imodium smoothie” and drink them. “I’ve had patients that are able to get high on as little as 40 or 50,” he said, “and then there are others who have taken upwards of 300 to 400 pills at once.”
This is incredibly dangerous, Dr. Eggleston said, because Imodium is a “cardiac toxin.” Taking too much of it can result in abnormal heart rhythms, and those can be fatal. Regardless, he said, many addicts are resorting to the practice because it is cheap and legal.
“Right now, I can go on Costco’s website and buy about 400 tablets for a few dollars,” he said. “(The problem) has really just recently exploded.” Many addicts have even resorted to mixing Imodium with Prilosec, an omeprazole-based heartburn medication, to speed up the drug’s absorption into the bloodstream.