Kratom: substitute for opioids?

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The opioid epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. That's why some addicts have turned to Kratom.

Some claim it can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms from opioids. Pharmacist Amy Pullen works with patients trying to get off opioids. She says a handful have told her they are using Kratom to do it.

“Some patients report the Kratom reduces their experience of pain, so it has some analgesic effects. Also it has some effects on them psychologically, in terms of mood elevation,” says Pullen.

There is no scientific evidence at this time that Kratom can ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal or that the herbal supplement can replace opioids themselves.

As a matter of fact, less than two years ago the DEA was ready to classify the herbal supplement in the category of drugs that includes heroin and LSD. That's because the drug, taken in large quantities, can produce an opioid high.

The FDA reports 36 deaths from the drug--Pullen says most likely the supplement was mixed with something else.

“It can slow the respiratory drive. So breathing becomes slowed. Not enough oxygen gets to the brain. And the brain shuts down, and the heart shuts down,” says Pullen

It is a supplement at this time and not heavily regulated. You can find Kratom in dozens for smoke shops locally. At a smoke shop, I found a section of wall devoted to Kratom, with the man next to me ready to buy a bottle with approximately 50 tablets. While the amount may be correct, no one can guarantee exactly what the pills contain.

Late last year the Food and Drug Administration says it was going to alert port authorities to crack down on misbranded drugs that try to enter the country. But there's another issue Pullen says patients need to consider when using Kratom instead of opioids.

“It acts on the same receptors or the sites where the prescription opioids would act,” says Pullen. that means patients may find themselves trying to withdraw from Kratom later down the road as they withdraw from opioids now.