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The sad, scary reason why addicts are abusing Imodium A-D

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that the country is in the midst of a prescription opioid overdose epidemic, with more than 23,000 people dying of overdoses in 2014 alone.

Common opioids are heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl, but an over-the-counter medicine is quickly rising on the list of dangerous opioid-like drugs because it mimics the high at a much lower price.

More: 10 things you shouldn’t say to the spouse of a recovering addict

According to a report published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, the anti-diarrhea medication Imodium A-D is now in high demand with opioid addicts. The reason is simple: The medication’s main ingredient, loperamide, slows down the intestines to stop diarrhea — but in large doses, it acts much like opioids.

“It’s an opioid agent, and it helps to bind receptors in the brain and cause a similar euphoria or high,” Dr. Scott Krakower, a specialist in addiction disorders at Northwell Health, told CBS News.

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The medicine — which runs from $5 to $10 at most pharmacies — is a cheaper option than other opioid sources, though some addicts have reported taking between 50 and 300 pills a day to get the same effect. But, like all medication, Imodium A-D can have serious side effects in high doses, including heart and kidney problems — even death.

National Poison Center data recorded a 71 percent increase in calls related to loperamide usage from 2011 to 2014, according to the study. As a result, the authors encouraged the FDA to limit the amount of loperamide-formulated medications people can buy over the counter at once, much like Sudafed.

More: How God’s grace helped me through my husband’s addiction

“This is another reminder that all drugs, including those sold without a prescription, can be dangerous when not used as directed,” William Eggleston, an author of the case study and a pharmacist at Upstate New York Poison Center, said in a news release.

That’s an understatement.

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