Opiate abuse has become a public health issue in the past several years. Reports released each year by government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an increase in use of drugs such as prescription opioids. Many people who are not able to get prescription drugs from their doctors turn to other alternatives. Some use street drugs such as heroin and some have sought out an herb called kratom.
Kratom is considered a natural opiate alternative that can be smoked, chewed or brewed into a tea. Most people use it as a pain reliever, but some do use it recreationally. At high doses, it can have a sedative effect. People who suffer from chronic pain often use it to help manage their pain. It has also been used to help addicts overcome opiate addictions.
The CDC reports that calls about kratom have increased from 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015, showing that the drug has become more popular over the last five years. The data from the CDC is only from reports from poison control centers. This does not include data abut general use. If you have a friend or loved one with an addiction problem, call Legacy Freedom for affordable Wilmington, NC drug rehab and alcohol treatment.
Origins of Kratom
Mitragyna speciosa, or kratom, is a plant native to Southeast Asia that is in the coffee bean family. It has been used in traditional medicine in Thailand. It is a green, leafy plant that people in Thailand often chew on in order to feel its effects. Some use it to help with mood and as a painkiller. It is not seen as a drug in those areas, it has been a part of culture for years. However, it is illegal to own kratom, even though it is indigenous to the area. Because of this, it is hard to enforce the law. The Thai government has in the past developed programs to chop down the trees. In 2010, the Thai government proposed legalization of the herb and sought to remove it from the list of banned narcotics, but the motion has not been passed.
In 2016, in the U.S. the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would place kratom on the controlled substance list, and issued an alert stating that any imports of it should be seized. The DEA released a press release stating that the herb is abused because it is able to produce opioid-like effects and because it is marketed as a legal alternative to illegal substances, it will be placed on the controlled substance list.
People who oppose the ban began petitioning the decision, with over 100,000 people signing an online petition asking the DEA to keep it available. Standard procedure for banning a drug involves having experts weigh in on the matter, and it appears the DEA did not follow through with that guideline. Petitioners tried to make a case to hold off the government’s decision so that the drug would not become difficult to get. Most users order the drug online with one user paying $150 for a 20mL bottle. As of the end of September, if the DEA’s plan is approved, the drug will be illegal to sell and possess.
Many of the supporters are people who suffer from fibromyalgia and other illnesses that cause chronic pain. They feel this is a better alternative to prescribed medicines. However, any drug can become a problem if it is abused. One user of kratom started taking it to ease pain from her illness, but soon began taking more and more. Over the course of taking the herb, she lost weight, developed insomnia and had decreased energy levels. Because she was hiding her kratom use from her husband, they began having problems due to her secrecy. She also realized she was taking too much, so she tried to cut back. When she did, she experienced severe withdrawal symptoms. Even from just reducing her dosage, she began to have abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. She had to go to a doctor who slowly weaned her off of the herb over the course of a year and a half.
The FDA also released a statement about the drug, warning people of the risks. They said that taking it can lead to negative health effects including depression of the respiratory system, agitation, aggression, sleeplessness, hallucinations, delusions, tremors, nausea and vomiting.
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Effects of Kratom
While kratom may be used to relieve pain and enhance mood, it can have many adverse effects. There has been a rise in hospital visits as well as deaths related to the herb. There were 15 deaths in the U.S. related to kratom, according the DEA. The CDC saw an increase in calls regarding the herb in the last five years.
Most of the effects of the drug occur 5 to 10 minutes after it is taken. The effects can last 12-24 hours, with withdrawal kicking in after the drug wears off. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Some of the effects seen from taking the drug include hallucinations, psychosis and seizures. It can also cause stomach problems such as nausea, constipation and even bowel obstruction. When the drug is taken, breathing is slowed which can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning. People who take the herb regularly may experience muscle spasms, pain, insomnia, fever and decreased appetite.
Because of the popularity of the drug, the government and health officials are beginning to educate the public about its dangers. Just because something is considered natural, or is a plant or herb, does not mean it is safe to take.
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