People in NJ are overdosing on anti-diarrhea medicine
There's a growing, dangerous trend in New Jersey. It's called loperamide toxicity. The State Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark says the drug has a high potential for abuse, misuse and risk of overdose.
Loperamide is usually used to treat diarrhea, said Dr. Diane Calello, director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center. It can be found in common over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medicine such as Imodium. She said if taken properly, loperamide does not have many side effects.
But the problem is taking 100 times the recommended dose, which could have fatal side effects, including cardiac arrest.
Calello said people are overdosing because loperamide is an opioid. In low doses to treat diarrhea, it does not affect the brain or cause a high. But the majority of patients who are taking it in extremely high doses are taking it either to get high or to avoid withdrawal from other opioids like heroin, fentanyl or oxycodone.
When someone overdoses on an opioid, they can die when their breathing stops. But if they're found early enough and given Narcan, that can cause them to wake up and start breathing again.
But with loperamide, it causes the heart to develop a potentially fatal arrhythmia and to stop. Calello said it really stops your heart before it stops your breathing. Narcan which is effective to revive a typical opioid overdose, does not fix or reverse this cardiac toxicity.
Calello said there's been an increase every year in loperamide toxicity cases. In 2018, the New Jersey Poison Control took more than 53 calls of patients who were severely affected with loperamide toxicity. There's also been a slight increase in fatalities every year.
People with opioid use disorder struggle with symptoms of withdrawal. Many resort to taking high doses of loperamide because it's available in over-the-counter meds.
There are safer ways to treat withdrawal from opioid use, said Calello. She said to seek care and counseling from a physician.
For more information, call the NJ Poison Control Help Number at 1-800-222-1222.
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