In the midst of the worst drug epidemic in U.S history, multiple attempts have been made to combat the rising issue. Treatment centers are at an influx, the President has declared a public health emergency, and harm reduction strategies have been implemented (drug substitution, needle exchange programs, etc.) in the recent past to attempt to deter the crisis from gaining momentum.
There is one questionable drug that has been causing an uproar among advocates. This seemingly harmless substance is widely known at “Kratom,” and there is an entire community refusing to back down from it’s cause. I know plenty of people with long term-sobriety who use it and still consider themselves as sober. Though, other groups of addicts swear off it’s use and alleged remedies. So is taking this drug considered a relapse? That is the constant and controversial question I hear time and time again. Let’s dive in.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is closely related to the make-up of a coffee plant and has long been used to relieve pain and ease opiate withdrawal in parts of Asia. Kratom is only illegal in six states, and promoted as a safe, undetectable, legal drug that can be used to come off harder drugs. Therefore, addicts can and have used this drug as either a loophole, or a substitute to curb addiction, while detoxing or not.
What’s The Controversy?
In August 2016, The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it would temporarily reclassify kratom as a “Schedule I” drug, which means they would consider it “highly addictive.” This brought about a strong reaction, including public demonstrations, petitions, and calls by Congress to overrule the decision. The DEA lists kratom as a “drug of concern” but not a controlled substance and has now passed the issue over to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA has cited 36 deaths in association with kratom. The autopsies which have been made available are missing critical information, and several of the autopsies have not been made public. Advocates of the substance have worked to provide education to the two agencies, along with lawmakers, to prove their case that kratom should in fact remain legal.
Helpful Or Harmful?
However, some addicts swear by the drug as a tool to aid in their recovery. Some users tout the drug as a miracle medicine that is a natural painkiller and a methadone alternative that can help cure other opiate addictions. In 2011, Susan Ash found herself addicted to a cocktail of pain pills after battling Lyme Disease. Following detox and treatment, Susan found kratom and has since used the drug daily. She founded the American Kratom Association in 2015, a consumer based non-profit which now has hundreds of dues-paying members. It also has around 2,500 active contributors who share their experiences with kratom in an online forum. The Association works to lobby against state bills that seek to ban the substance.
Others say Kratom must be banned because its promise as a therapy that relies on a less harmful opioid substitute is complicating the addiction recovery process.
Battling a heroin addiction, Dariya Pankova, grew addicted to the drug. Continual use of the substance awakened her cravings for a stronger high, and she relapsed on heroin. Pankova states, “It’s a mind-altering substance, so people like me who are addicts and alcoholics, they think just because it’s legal, it’s fine. It’s a huge epidemic down here, and it’s causing a lot of relapses.”
Another South Florida resident stated he had abused dozens of different drugs before discovering kratom three years ago. He enjoyed the mild high to the point that he found himself ordering bottle after bottle. When he tried to cut back, he couldn’t, and eventually suffered from such withdrawals that he had to go to rehab for kratom multiple times.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that there is no “reliable evidence” to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid-use disorder, and that there are no other FDA-approved uses for kratom. Gottlieb stated that, “evidence shows that the herb has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and, in some cases, death.” He said that calls to U.S. poison control centers involving kratom increased tenfold between 2010 and 2015.
Dr. Jack Henningfield, vice president of research and abuse policy at pharmaceutical company, Pinney Associates issued an “Eight Factor Scientific Study” on kratom and determined that kratom’s potential for abuse, tolerance, and dependence is lower than that of many schedule IV and V drugs.
Advocates have been busy trying to convince lawmakers that banning kratom would deprive the public of a promising treatment that has already helped many people struggling not just with opioid addiction but with other ailments treated with heavier prescription drugs.
The drug could be a quick solution for those suffering with debilitating ailments. However on one hand, some who have lived in recovery do not consider kratom a relapse. On another, many claim and have experienced the drug leading them back to full-blown addiction. The controversial subject has had many scrutinizing the opposing side.
So the question comes down to this. Is taking kratom considered a relapse? It depends on your beliefs about the substance. I’m no doctor, and I’m definitely not your sponsor. My suggestion would be to follow the suggestions given to you.
One addict stated, “I live in recovery everyday. If I’m taking it, as far as I’m concerned, I’m not clean. I followed the suggestions given to me, and do the next right thing. I don’t need the drug in my life. For me, I couldn’t get anymore benefits out of this life I’m living by adding another substance to my body, and I’m doing just fine. In my own experience, anything that is mind-altering is considered a relapse.”
What are your thoughts?