People Are Abusing This Common Diarrhea Medicine — And It's Terrifying

Getty Images

Amidst an ongoing opioid epidemic in the U.S., a frightening new trend has emerged — the abuse of loperamide, a main ingredient in the over-the-counter medicines used to treat diarrhea.

According to a statement released Tuesday by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the epidemic is on the rise "with sometime fatal results." 

Loperamide is found in drugs like Imodium and Diamode, and sold right off of drugstore shelves.

The active ingredient in loperamide is an opioid, but, according to the Washington Post, it stimulates opioid receptors in the gut with minimal effect in the brain, hence the diarrhea relief without the euphoria. 

Source: Mic/Flickr

The seemingly mild effect of loperamide within recommended doses led drug trial researchers in the 1980s to determine that it "poses little threat of potential abuse," reported the Post.

But some opioid users are taking as much as six times the amount of loperamide needed to treat diarrhea — either to achieve a high or to help ease symptoms of opioid addictions.

"People looking for either self-treatment of withdrawal symptoms or euphoria are overdosing on loperamide with sometimes deadly consequences," said pharmacist William Eggleston of the Upstate New York Poison Center in Syracuse, New York, who authored a recent study about loperamide abuse, in a statement. "Loperamide is safe in therapeutic doses but extremely dangerous in high doses."