Another drug worrying authorities

February 02, 2018 04:03 PM

Law enforcement is keeping an alert eye out for yet another drug to hit the streets. It's called kratom. It comes from the leaf of a plant grown in Asia, where it's been used for years as a mild stimulant. However, in larger doses, it acts as an opioid. That's what has police and the medical community on edge. 

It's legal right now, but that could change. 


"If you go too high in the dose, then the opiate becomes very, very much enhanced and it would be like overdosing on an opiate," explained Dr. Jeffrey Fudin.

That's just one of the problems with kratom, says Fudin, a clinical pharmacology specialist at the Stratton VA Medical Center. He says it can interact with other drugs and cause agitation, heart attack and stroke. 

Derived from the leaves of the kratom tree. However, it's been banned in five states in the United States and the Drug Enforcement Administration is considering making it a Schedule 1 drug - the same class as heroin.

"We want to get in front of the new drugs that are coming into the area," noted Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

The sheriff says his deputies have been on the lookout for kratom, but so far they haven't found it sold at corner stores where he says it might first turn up. However, he knows it's only a matter of time. 

"Even our fentanyls and a lot of our synthetic opioids are coming in from China. So who's to say that the next shipment isn't a cargo container of kratom?" he asked.

There are published reports from people swearing kratom is the pain treatment they've been looking for. Others say it's helped them kick their opioid habit. 

However, there are reports of death. The DEA notes at least 30 deaths -- most since 2014. 

Even that's controversial. The American Kratom Association and Botanical Education Alliance deny it's deadly.

It's no wonder they want to get out in front, as legislatures, including New York's, are considering making kratom illegal.

"People have no idea how to measure it. They have no idea what they're ingesting," pointed out Albany Assemblyman John McDonald.

Also a pharmacist, McDonald says kratom poses a clear health threat.

"They're mixing it in alcohol because it has a bitter taste. Mixing kratom with alcohol is like a terrible prescription. It's a prescription for disaster because they both have respiratory depressant effects," he warned.

There are two bills in the state Legislature that would control its sale. The state Health Department says it's keeping an eye on those bills and reviewing kratom to determine what interventions might be necessary. It's also including results of the FDA's scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation.

In the meantime, kratom is easily purchased over the internet.

I asked Fudin if anybody knows what an effective dose is because it's an herb.

"That's a great question," he replied. "Nobody knows what the dose is -- and even if we knew what the dose was, it's not pure."

Kratom is not routinely screened for in overdose deaths. So until there's legislative action, it's buyer beware. 

"The effects of it -- I mean, it's similar to heroin. It's similar to cocaine. Those are obviously scheduled controlled substances. So where's the logic of not controlling this?" asked Apple.

The fate of kratom is up in the air. In 2016, the DEA pulled back from temporarily making it a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, because of huge pushback from advocacy groups. So public comment was re-opened.

Folks who use kratom reached out to me detailing how it's helped them control pain and anxiety. In short, they're passionate about the value of kratom.

I also heard from people who say they were harmed by it.

I'll keep you posted on any action by the state Legislature and the DEA.


Benita Zahn

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