Federal health officials are investigating sometimes-deadly overdoses with common anti-diarrhoea drugs, a bizarre manifestation of the nation's drug addiction problem.
Restricting over-the-counter sales
The Food and Drug Administration warned doctors and patients that the over-the-counter and prescription medications, including Imodium, can cause potentially deadly heart problems when taken in large doses.
The agency has received 31 reports of people hospitalised due to the heart problems, including 10 deaths over the last 39 years. The agency's database is not comprehensive and many drug overdoses are not reported to the government.
Read: Drug overdoses on the rise
But national poison centres reported a 71 percent increase in calls involving the drugs between 2011 and 2014, according to a journal article published last month in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
The paper's authors recommended restricting over-the-counter sales of anti-diarrhoea drugs, similar to other easily abused medications like pseudoephedrine, the decongestant that can be processed into methamphetamine.
Epidemic of addiction and abuse
FDA regulators said in an online posting that they are monitoring the issue and considering next steps.
Read: Opioid Dependence – something we should all know about
The primary ingredient in Imodium and similar drugs, loperamide, is intended to control diarrhoea, with maximum-recommended doses ranging between 8 and 16 milligrams per day.
But abusers have reportedly tried to achieve heroin-like highs by taking massive doses, up to 300 milligrams at once, according to cases in the medical literature.
Reports of abuse are rising amid an epidemic of addiction and abuse involving opioids, a family of drugs that includes narcotics like heroin and legal prescriptions like morphine and oxycodone.
Read: 50+ now largest group battling narcotic addiction
In some cases, opioid abusers will attempt to wean themselves off those drugs by substituting the anti-diarrhoea drugs.
In 2014, more than 47,000 drug overdoses were recording in the US, with opioids accounting for 61 percent of that total, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal and state authorities have been trying to reverse opioid abuse for years, though overdose deaths have continued to rise.
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