An alarming new study suggests people addicted to opiates, or self-treating for opioid withdrawal, are turning to a cheap over-the-counter drugs and abusing them - anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium.
"It's very surprising," said Steve Cotreau, program manager at the Portland Recovery Community Center. "People will experiment. That's the reality. They will experiment with things you'd never dream of."
According to a recent study published in peer-reviewed medical journal the Annals of Emergency Medicine, antidiarrheal abuse has become more popular in the last decade.
The main ingredient in drugs like Imodium is Loperamide, which is an opioid safe to take in small doses. But according to University of New England Professor of Pharmacology Ed Bilsky, some people are taking dangerously large amounts.
"We are hearing reports of 100 tablets at a time," said Dr. Bilsky.
In that quantity, Loperamide can produce a "euphoric high," according to Bilsky – but it can also trigger cardiac arrest, and end in death.
The new toxicology report states a Poison Center in Upstate New York has had a seven-fold increase in Loperamide abuse calls in the last four years. The authors call for the FDA to take action, and regulate the sale of antidiarrheals.
At the Portland Recovery Community Center, it's a sign that more drug treatment is needed to combat the opioid epidemic.
"Cutting off the drug supply is not the answer," said Cotreau. "They'll just seek another supply."