A few months ago, KX News ran a story about a local doctor’s concerns about Kratom.
It’s an herbal medication that’s sold in the US as a supplement. Kratom is often used as a substitute for opioids to relieve pain, but it’s not yet regulated by the FDA.
The story went virtually viral in the Kratom community, nationwide. For months we received daily email testimonies from users who are terrified the FDA will take it away.
Here are the results of poll KX News posted following the November story:
We asked North Dakotans if you think Kratom has benefits. 96 percent said “Yes, it is useful”, and just four percent said, “No, it’s not beneficial”.
The poll received close to 400 comments from Kratom users who say it has been a ‘lifesaver’, and a substitute for opioids to treat their chronic pain.
One user commented he’s replaced 20 years of using Hydrocodone three times a day, with two teaspoons of Kratom in the morning.
We sat down with a North Dakota small business owner, who says, he wouldn’t be able to get up and go to work every day, without it.
Mike Radke suffered a back injury years ago.
He shares, “The medical facilities put me on Oxycodone. I tried that for a day and said, ‘Absolutely not’. I mean I can see how someone would be addicted to that so easily.”
He found out about Kratom about a year and a half ago and hasn’t looked back.
Radke explains, “If you’re willing to use Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, whatever it may be that makes it so you can’t drive, you can’t go to work, order this stuff. And when it comes in, throw the other stuff in the garbage.”
I reached out to a range of medical providers in Bismarck, including hospitals and pain management clinics, for a doctor that could provide some insight.
Every place I called either refused to comment or wouldn’t return my calls.
I spoke with a physician from Portland Oregon, who is very familiar with the supplement.
The doctor told me Kratom is an herbal plant from southeast Asia. She calls it a mild opiate, because it stimulates some of your opioid receptors, but not nearly to the degree narcotics would.
Internal Medicine Doctor Ginevra Liptan says, “We don’t see the same kind of respiratory suppression leading to overdose deaths with Kratom as we do opioids, so certainly from that perspective, it’s safer. The challenge is Kratom when combined with other things does have some deadly effects. So there have been some reports of deaths from Kratom combined with benzodiazepines, or Kratom combined with antidepressants, or antihistamines, or even over the counter cough medications.”
She believes Kratom has fewer risks associated with it than opioids, but she says it still has the potential for addiction and withdrawal.
Radke says he’s never felt addicted to Kratom. Instead, he says he often forgets to take it.
He adds, “I would say I probably forget to take it three days a week in the morning.”
Dr. Liptan explains, “You don’t see as much dependence or tolerance, or kind of addiction potential with the substances in Kratom, as you do in opioids. So there is, actually, huge therapeutic potential. Because if it was done well, I think it could be a really useful treatment for pain, for addiction, for keeping people off of opioids.”
Dr. Liptan says pain patients have little to no options if they want to avoid narcotics. But until Kratom is regulated and studies have been done about long term use, she will continue to recommend her patients against it.
She adds, “There’s a lot of kind of fly-by-night, sketchy companies that are producing the Kratom that’s currently available.”
Radke orders his online where he can do the research, and better know what he’s getting. But you can buy it right here, in North Dakota stores.
Ryan Loeb sells Kratom at his store in Bismarck.
The Tokes-R-Us Owner shares, “We actually had a few people recommend it, and now it’s just become a big thing here.”
At Tokes-R-Us, you can buy it as an extract, powder or in capsules. Loeb says he researched distributors before bringing the product into his store.
He adds, “It’s like weed, it’s just a plant. I mean people use it and there are less deaths than opiates. While we talked right now, three people probably died from overdose.”
It’s even at gas stations, which Dr. Liptan says, is nerve-wracking.
We went to several gas stations in the Bismarck-Mandan area, and the Red Carpets were the only stores we found it in.
Management wouldn’t allow us to film in the store, but we purchased Kratom capsules from the Bismarck Red Carpet, no questions asked.”
Dr. Liptan says she read that two-million Americans currently use Kratom.
She adds, “A few years ago the DEA tried to move it up to a Schedule One, meaning no medicinal use. There was a lot of backlash, and a lot of pain and addiction patients said, ‘You can’t take Kratom away from us.’ So the DEA backed off.”
Right now Kratom is only illegal in five states. In New York state, it’s legal for anyone over 18.
Many other states have tried and failed to pass legislation about its legality. New Jersey has pending legislation. In a few states, single cities have banned the supplement.
In North Dakota, it’s one hundred percent legal to buy and sell Kratom.
I mentioned earlier that those who depend on Kratom are terrified it will soon be taken away. Radke says he doesn’t know what he would do if this happens.
Dr. Liptan says she hopes pharmaceutical companies pick it up, so it can be regulated and manufactured safely for those who need it. She’s afraid if not, it will inevitably end up on the list of Schedule One drugs.
You may have heard of Kratom before due to a multi-state Salmonella outbreak linked to the drug last year.
Almost 200 people in 41 states reported getting Salmonella poisoning from using Kratom, including one in North Dakota.
The outbreak started in February of 2018 and was contained by June.
The CDC reports they were unable to trace how the outbreak occurred, but that it’s not uncommon for plants to become contaminated.
There are no FDA-approved uses for Kratom. However, they do encourage more research to better understand it, including the use of kratom, combined with other drugs.