HealthZette

Crazy Ways People are Getting High

To reach an altered state, some people now take ... Imodium? But that's not the worst of it.

There is always some new substance, it seems, that kids (and a growing number of adults) appear willing to try to get high.

One of the men died after taking six boxes of loperamide — a normal dose is two pills per day.

Parents have now been warned to watch for Imodium abuse. The over-the-counter anti-diarrhea drug is increasingly being used among opioid addicts who can no longer access pills, or who may be trying to self-treat their drug dependence.

Imodium contains loperamide, a medication that depresses the central nervous system and the respiratory system. A recent study on the trend was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine after two people died from an overdose. One of the men died after taking six boxes of loperamide — a normal dose is two pills per day.

“Loperamide, in small doses, generally has few side effects, but in massive doses, can be toxic to the heart,” said Dr. Constance Scharff, Ph.D., the director of addiction research at Cliffside Malibu, a top treatment facility located in California.

“Loperamide abusers show up in the ER with heart problems. Emergency doctors are just becoming aware of it — loperamide abuse is not something we have tracked in the past. This abuse is akin to someone drinking mouthwash when the vodka runs out,” she told LifeZette.

Addicts aren’t the only ones turning to Imodium. Adolescents are also trying it as “a clever new way to get high that won’t show up on toxicology panels or other drug screens,” Dr. Shannon Ricker, a toxicologist with the North Texas Poison Center at Parkland Hospital, told KERA News.

It’s just one of the many “exotic” ways, however, that mental health experts and law enforcement say people are seeking to get high. Bath salts and spice have long been issues. Using vaporizers to smoke a drug of choice, taking drugs rectally, and powdered drugs pressed into normal-looking pills are some of the other worrisome trends, Keith Graves said. Graves writes for policeone.com, and is a gang and narcotics unit supervisor and Drug Recognition Expert Instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We have a major problem in America with the proliferation of drugs,” said one expert.

“We have a major problem in America with the proliferation of drugs — thanks to more lax laws about drug use as well as a more lax view about drug use in general. The biggest problems with our communities right now is the growth of heroin use that has evolved from over prescribing of opiate medications and marijuana concentrates,” said Graves.

Addiction specialists agree. There are far bigger problems than Imodium facing this country.

“When I was younger and in the beginning of my practice, there was this gradual progression from maybe alcohol or marijuana, and people kind of ‘moved up the ladder.’ Now, people are going to opiates really early — or first,” said Dr. Brad Reedy, the owner and clinical director of Utah-based Evoke Therapy Programs, a wilderness therapy program for struggling youth.

“I’ve had clients who didn’t have a gateway drug. They went right into Oxycontin or heroin. That was unheard of even a few years ago. Maybe the normalization of drugs — pot initiatives, specifically — are desensitizing us to it. It’s not as shameful as it was years ago. When I was first practicing, heroin was ‘for losers,’ if you will. Only the absolute outcasts were doing it. I now have wealthy people in Manhattan whose children — that’s the first drug they try. It’s crazy. The gateway has changed,” said Reedy.

[lz_ndn video=30936518]

Xanax and Benzodiazepine (tranquilizers) abuse is growing too, Reedy said. Even with marijuana, there are a growing number of problems.

“There are a lot of chemicals in marijuana these days that aren’t regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration], so we’re seeing more psychotic-induced drug abuses. When I was a kid, you smoked a joint or a bong and you knew exactly how much you were smoking. Now, you can ingest a tremendous amount of THC into your body in a very short period of time and it’s hard to monitor,” Reedy said.

The epidemic of drug use and abuse is a daunting problem right now for the country. Most of Reedy’s clients come to Utah from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco, and he has seen more deaths among clients or former clients from overdose over the past five years than he did in his first 15 years of practice.

For families struggling with addiction, he says, very simply — don’t lose hope.

“I find promise in getting an email a week from a former client who may be writing a college essay based on the treatment  he or she got and how it changed their lives — 25 percent of our staff are former students and therapists. It’s heavy when we lose one, but day in and day out, the joy of what we do, is the lives that we save.”

Related: Climbing Back from Columbine

Perhaps most important to note, Reedy told LifeZette, is that recovery for addicts is far more successful when family members — parents especially — work on their own issues.

“Most people say, ‘Well, it’s not my problem, I’m not the one experimenting or addicted.’ And that kind of mentality doesn’t work. If parents can get past their own fear and shame, walk into their own meetings and therapy sessions, and read the books, it changes a parent and it changes their ability to respond to their child. Parents’ education does not change children. Parents’ education changes parents and that can have a wonderful impact on a family.”

Reedy adds that the more severe an addiction might be, the more clear that message needs to be.

“Make your life your project as a parent of a struggling adolescent or young adult. It doesn’t matter the problem — drug use, bad grades, bullying — do your own work. Your capacity increases as does your creativity, your authenticity, and your clarity, and you can respond to your child better. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but it gives you your best chance at being a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”