LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Opioid addicts are now turning to a cheap over-the-counter drug to get high.
Parents and those helping people in recovery need to be mindful of how an anti-diarrhea medicine found itself in the middle of the opioid epidemic. And what's being done to curb abuse.
A Bryant man is dead. And officials said Imodium, an anti-diarrhea medicine, is likely the cause. The man died of liver failure after taking copious amounts of the medication while drinking alcohol.
"I'm not surprised because a lot of times when people have an addiction or a substance abuse disorder they will find a way to get high,” Kirk Lane, the Arkansas State Drug Director said. "I think some people deal with it because they are trying to wean themselves off of opioids.
"And this helps them deal with that withdrawal period. And there are some people who use it because they can't get opioids because of their funds, or they can't find heroin. They're not able to write a fake prescription or steal something, or commit a crime to gain money to buy opioids. And then maybe some of the restrictions on opioids, where it's not dispensed as it was in the past."
The active ingredient in Imodium is a drug called loperamide. Doctors say it is an opioid agent that causes a similar high but only in extremely high doses. We are talking 50-300 Imodium a day.
From 2011 to 2014, National Poison Data System found a 71 percent increase in calls related to loperamide usage.
"We know in that same time period, opioids have been on an increase, and have increased many fold since then," Lane said. "So as much as we have an opioid-dependent population, we are going to have people who are trying to deal with their withdrawal systems. And we are going to have people that exploit it to get high too.”
The drug isn't very expensive. Shoppers can get 400 generic capsules for as little as $10. Prompting the Food and Drug Administration to ask manufacturers to consider switching to blister packaging that limits the number of pills a customer can purchase at a time.
"You know, it may come to that, [putting loperamide behind the counter.] And I think it's a trend that we need to watch” Lane said. I know in Oklahoma they have had such a serious problem with it that they enacted a law that actually put it behind the counter,"
The FDA Commissioner says one of the agencies' key roles in addressing the opioid epidemic is to reduce new addiction, so they are exploring ways to reduce people's exposure to opioids. The FDA also says most loperamide purchases are made in bulk online.