Heroin addicts are taking medication designed to treat diarrhoea to try and overcome their drug habits.

Concerns have been raised that people are taking massive doses of loperamide to try and overcome their opioid dependency. Loperamide is a key ingredient in the well-known medication Imodium, which can be bought over the counter from pharmacies to provide relief for diarrhoea.

A US study, published by Annals of Emergency Medicine, says this self-medication is dangerous and in some cases has been fatal.

William Eggleston, who is the lead author of the study and works at the Upstate New York Poison Center, said: “Loperamide’s accessibility, low cost, over-the-counter legal status and lack of social stigma all contribute to its potential for abuse. People looking for either self-treatment of withdrawal symptoms or euphoria are overdosing on loperamide with sometimes deadly consequences.”

He added: “Loperamide is safe in therapeutic doses but extremely dangerous in high doses.”

People taking Imodium to treat diarrhoea do not need to be concerned but it is claimed drug users are taking the medication in far larger amounts than the recommended dose.

The report includes two case studies involving people with a history of substance misuse who turned to loperamide to try and cope with the withdrawal symptoms they were suffering from. Both of these patients overdosed on the medication and died, despite attempts to resuscitate them by the emergency services.

Loperamide misuse has spread since 2011

The study claims that discussions on web forums have been instrumental in the spread of this dangerous self-medication. And the Upstate New York Poison Centre has seen the number of calls it receives relating to the misuse of loperamide increase seven-fold in the four years from 2011 to 2015.

Dr Eggleston said the growing use of loperamide in the US was partly down to new laws relating to prescription opioid medication.

He said: “Our nation’s growing population of opioid-addicted patients is seeking alternative drug sources with prescription opioid medication abuse being limited by new legislation and regulations. This is another reminder that all drugs, including those sold without a prescription, can be dangerous when not used as directed.”

Opioids are pain-relieving medications and include morphine, heroin and codeine. This study highlights how important it is that addicts seek professional help when trying to overcome their drug use rather than looking for their own solutions.

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of drugs tests which can detect the use of opioids in urine, blood or hair strand samples. Tests can be used by family members, employers, courts, the probation service and other organisations to try and monitor an individual’s substance misuse and recovery.

Post Rehab testing is often used when a recovering addict returns to the workplace after a period of rehabilitation. It can be used to check whether they have managed to stay clear of drugs and to quickly discover any relapses so they can get the help they need to get their recovery back on track.