Kratom and The Opioid Crisis

The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is a serious crisis in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), opioid-related deaths have more than quadrupled since the year 2000. While natural and semi-synthetic opioids had been the leading cause of overdose deaths, deaths occurring from heroin, opiates and other synthetic opioids have skyrocketed at an alarming rate. As researchers, medical professional and treatment centers try to keep up with the increasing number of patients struggling with opioid addiction, drugs like kratom have been marketed as safe and natural alternative treatments for opioid withdrawal.

Kratom and The Opioid Crisis
Kratom is a substance that comes from the kratom tree, which is closely related to the coffee tree. It is native to Southeast Asia and has been used by Southeast Asian populations for over a hundred years. It has two distinct properties as a psychoactive drug. In low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant. While kratom is not an opiate, it acts like a sedative with many similar effects of opioid drugs when taken in higher doses. Traditionally, kratom leaves were chewed or brewed into a tea, delivering a low dose to achieve the more mild, stimulating effect.
When used traditionally, a low dose of kratom brings about a light stimulant effect, increasing mood, appetite and sexual desire. People have found that when they take kratom in much higher doses, they are able to get euphoric effects -much like those of heroin and various other opioid drugs. Those opioid-like characteristics have made it a popular choice among people who abuse opioids. In this way, they use kratom as a replacement when they can’t acquire their preferred drugs. Kratom is also often used as a self-treatment option for those seeking relief from opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Kratom is marketed as a safe, natural drug and herbal supplement. However, this doesn’t mean that kratom doesn’t have any dangerous side effects. Diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting and irritability are all common side effects from the continued use of kratom. People who use kratom chronically may experience a decrease in libido and depression. The drug also has the potential to cause people to become dependent upon it, leading to withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking kratom. Many of the drug’s side effects are similar to those associated with opioids, such as dangerously slowed breathing (respiratory depression) -which is one of the leading causes of opioid overdose deaths.
Kratom has been on the watch list for drugs of concern for several years. Finally, in 2016, the DEA announced that it was moving kratom to the list of controlled substances under Schedule I. Schedule I controlled substances are drugs that have no accepted medical use and pose a high risk for abuse, addiction and dependence. After lawmakers and the public requested that the agency reconsider this decision, pointing out the lack of sufficient research and data into the possible dangers or benefits of kratom, the DEA delayed scheduling the drug. It remains legal in the United States; however, kratom is banned in many countries, including several of the Southeast Asian countries that grow the native plant.
Even though the DEA has delayed scheduling the drug and making it illegal, the FDA issued a warning about the potential health risks of using kratom, particularly as a replacement for opioids or opiate drugs, in 2017. Until more research has been done, kratom should not be considered as a viable option for people seeking treatment for opioid addiction and dependence.

The only proven, effective way to stop using opioids safely is through professional, medical treatment programs. Medical treatments that use opioid replacement therapy under the direction and supervision of licensed medical professionals, combined with therapy and counseling is the best way to treat opioid addiction. Using an unregulated, untested product puts people struggling with addiction in danger of increased dependence, more severe withdrawal symptoms and potentially deadly overdoses.