Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
suicide by OTC overdose
costellofolds wrote in little_details
I'm working on a horror screenplay set in a US modern-day mental hospital; part of the plot hinges on the lack of supervision, lack of upkeep, and overall shadiness of the place. One of the antagonists commits suicide by overdosing on an over-the-counter drug. The aftermath of the suicide is a big bloody mess of vomit and blood.

What OTC drug would [a] cause bloody vomiting [b] be small enough to hide [c] be easily obtained in either a convenience store or grocery store?

search terms: Most of the search terms came up with signs and treatments of suspected OTC overdoses; drug overdose OTC, drug overdose violent reaction, OTC overdose vomiting, suicide overdose, OTC suicide

PS - you guys were a big help with my last question! Although I'm not finished with that screenplay, your help got me over a big bout of writer's block.

[EDIT: To clarify on small enough to hide, I meant that she was able to hide it both on her person (to get it home) and in her room (not so much of a problem in the story), most likely in a drawer.]

Vivarin would cause bloody vomit (it's acidic) and I think you can OD on it.

Alka-seltzer can kill you at relatively low doses but I'm not sure of the vomit part.

Large amounts of ibuprofen are cheap, easily obtainable and would cause internal bleeding and copious bloody vomiting. I don't know about your "small enough to hide" criterion - most OTC drugs need to be taken in reasonably large quantities for overdose, if there's no actual allergy to the drug. Ibuprofen toxicity was registered at (I think) 400mg/kg, so your average 70kg person would need to take about 140 200mg tablets.

To clarify on small enough to hide, I meant that she was able to hide it both on her person (to get it home) and in her room (not so much of a problem in the story). I originally planned to have her overdose on some sort of cleaning product but realized that it'd be fairly obvious if someone saw her carrying a bottle of draino home.

Still, 140 tablets is quite a bit. I don't know if that would be dubious...sure, the hospital is lax, but that might asking the audience to suspend their belief a bit too much. However, it would be a stunning visual to see several bottles of Ibuprofen littering the floor. I'll mark that one down as a maybe.

Actually, I've got a bottle of ibuprofen that's 400 mg tablets, so you'd need 70 of them, and it's 72 tablets and not a huge bottle - three inches tall and an inch and a half in diameter.

400mg tablets are prescription-only here in Australia, so I wasn't sure what strength was available in the US.

I'm actually in Canada, which seems to be a little less strict than the States (I think you can get tylenol with codiene OTC here, but I've never looked myself).

I'm Canadian, but the Tylenol with Codeine is only T1, and they won't let you purchase it without speaking to the pharmacist.

Actually it's less strict in the States for most drugs. There are OTC asthma medications and the like we can't get here.

if you give her a pre-existing condition, say an ulser, you wouldn't need as much asprin to start her vomiting and bleeding.

Poor Prognosis Overdose Candidates, if medical care is not sought quickly, all involve potential vomit and blood.

Coma in 1/2 hour to 1 hour with vomit and blood
Prenatal vitamins have 60-100mg elemental iron
Ferrous sulfate comes in 300mg
60+ mg per kg of body weight is the start of the dangerous world of iron.
200 lb man = 54+ prenatal vitamins, 18+ Ferrous Sulfate tablets
Iron Toxicity
Child Iron Poisoning
Iron Toxicity Charts

levels in blood of more than 150 mg/kg to 300 mg are dangerous
Aspirin Toxicity

Motrin Toxicity

Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing Alcohol Toxicity

Sports Creme
Sports Creme Toxicity

Aleve (Naproxyn) poisoning seems to frequently involve bloody vomit but fatality rates are low.

If your character has a history of alcohol abuse, there is condition where the veins in the esophagus grow larger due to increased pressure from a damaged liver. They burst and bleed out at a disturbingly fast rate. Maybe that could be combined with the overdose?

Bleeding Varices

Lessons in healthy living.

rubbing alcohol! I didn't even think of that! There's a reference of the girl swipping cough syrup, so a bottle of rubbing alcohol wouldn't be much different.

How much would be toxic? I've heard of grizzled alcoholics that could chug the stuff. My character isn't an alcoholic, but is a recreational drug user.

5-6 shots apparently. This Author was wanting to poison one of his characters with it. One bottle just might do the trick.

Poison Study

It does seem like the blood portion of this is not significant, are you sure you don't want to go with sports creme? I'm not sure that has ever been used before as a suicide method. Could be cutting edge cinema. :)

Info on Alcohol poisoning in general:

How Much is Too Much?
Scientists use the term "lethal dose" (LD) to describe the dose (or in the case of alcohol, the concentration) that produces death in half the population (LD:50). Most authorities agree that blood alcohol concentrations in the 0.40 - 0.50% range meet the requirements for the LD:50. The blood alcohol concentration is the percentage of alcohol in the blood that results after alcohol is absorbed from the stomach into the blood supply. Obviously, studies of lethal dosage cannot be tested empirically in the laboratory, so the LD:50 for alcohol is estimated from post-mortem cases in which alcohol poisoning was found to be the primary cause of death. However, there are documented cases of fatal overdoses from alcohol at blood alcohol concentrations lower than 0.40%. To place this in perspective, a 100-pound woman or man who consumed 9-10 standard drinks, respectively, in less than an hour would be in the LD:50 range. A 200-pound man would have to consume about 5-6 drinks per hour for 4 hours to reach the LD:50. Although such high rates of consumption are atypical of most situations, participating in drinking "games" or club "initiations" often involves highly unregulated alcohol consumption. Impaired judgment from intoxication, coupled with large amounts of alcohol, is a potentially fatal combination.

I believe I've decided on rubbing alcohol, though that Ben Gay overdose may actually work for another screenplay I've been kicking around. Thanks for your help! =D

What about Liquid of Ipakac (sp)? Its purpose if to induce vomiting, and medical personnel often report problems in those who abuse it (usually bulemics) but if you did it a lot in a row, it could probably do severe damage. With the strain it might cause bleeding. You should look for an MSDS sheet on it though to confirm.

(Actually an MSDS is available for most drugs if you know where to look).

This is a woman/girl. She probably wouldn't have a purse in the mental hospital (though not unheard of). As cliched as this is, I'm flat chested so when I go clubbing, since there is a dress code with a serious lack of pockets in my wardrobe, I sincerely stuff crap in my bra.

You could always have her buy it, then ditch the bulky packaging. I do that often if I need an econo-bottle for home, but I want to take some now while shopping. There's always too much packaging.

Well done! I learned some interesting things for me)