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Antidiarrheal being abused by opioid addicts

Ellen Abbott

Abuse of a common over-the-counter drug is the latest side effect of the heroin epidemic.

Loperamide, more commonly known by the brand name Imodium, is used by most people to treat diarrhea. But Upstate New York Poison Center clinical toxicologist Jeanna Marraffa says the drug is used by opioid addicts to get high, or to help with withdrawal symptoms. Marraffa says in large quantities it can activate some of the same receptors as opioids. The problem is, it can kill.

“It’s extremely dangerous and can cause a lot of significant problems with heart rhythms. There’s even been some deaths related to this,” said Marraffa.

Calls to the Upstate New York Poison Center in Syracuse in connection to loperamide abuse have jumped from one in 2011, to 11 last year. And Marraffa says that’s just a glimpse into what could become a very dangerous trend. She emphasizes that taken as directed, loperamide is safe. But addicts are taking hundreds of pills at a time to get high.

Maraffa believes one way to shut this down, is to limit the over-the-counter access to the drug, the same way pseudoephedrine is regulated.

“Because then that way there’s some control over the quantity of what people buy. Right now you can buy a bottle of 100 to 200 pills [of loperamide] relatively easily. And I think that’s where I think we can really have an impact, if we can stop that accessibility,” said Marraffa.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.