Controversial opioid alternative Kratom explained by health official, users

Kratom billed as safe alternative to opioids, but is it?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Fighting the opioid epidemic, some are turning to all-natural remedies.

Kratom is promoted as a safe alternative to opioid painkillers. It’s sold in wellness stores across Louisville and is legal in the state, but local health officials have some concerns.

Kratom is from a plant in the coffee family, native to Southeast Asia.

At Louisville Organic Wellness Center, owner Angie Blunk said selling Kratom has been a draw for a lot customers.

Kevin Age is one of them. He has MS and started using Kratom a year and a half ago.

“If I have an episode, I can take one and whatever is happening at that moment, be it tremors or the numbness in my left leg or whatever, it’ll subside or drastically calm down the effects,” Age said.

Over at the Kentucky Poison Control Center, there are concerns.

“We’ve seen severe agitation and aggression, we’ve seen seizures, we’ve seen cardiac arrest, we’ve seen patients with more opioid toxic or experiencing withdrawal,” Director Ashley Webb said.

Webb said 10 calls have been made to her office so far in 2019 regarding Kratom, mostly from physicians with patients experiencing negative reactions.

The center said in 2018, there were 30 calls, and in one case, Kratom was a factor in a fatal overdose. Webb said in that case, the Kratom was laced with something else.

“It’s an unregulated product; it’s considered an herbal product so there’s no standards as far as the purity or the concentration,” Webb said.

Blunk has heard about those risks, so she said she makes sure the brand she carries in her store is tested by a third party.

“I’ve seen the bad effects of pharmaceutical drugs," Blunk said "A lot of times there’s so many side effects or it brings the body even more out of balance.”

Brian Austin was part of the 9/11 cleanup crew and spent eight months at the world trade center after the attacks.

“Even though I was in a very messed up place, I didn’t have any suicidal thoughts until I started taking their pills,” Austin said.

He stopped taking what he calls a dangerous cocktail of mood stabilizers and opiates and now only uses holistic medications, including Kratom.

“I’m in at a happier, peaceful place where I’m good.... I’m good,” Austin said.

Webb is concerned continued use of Kratom for some people might lead to addiction.

“What we’re seeing is people using it to treat opioid withdrawal and the problem is since it has an opioid effect itself, we’ve seen patients become addicted to this product, as well,” Webb said. “We’ve seen them experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it and in severe cases we’ve seen seizures and we’ve even seen death.”

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