Could Kratom Addiction be the Next Chapter of the Opioid Crisis?

The opioid crisis is the most pressing public health issue of our times: it destroys lives and divides communities, and opioid addiction treatment is often inconsistent or inaccessible to those who need it. So it may surprise you to learn that there’s currently a legal opioid on the market that requires no prescription.

What is Kratom?

Kratom, also known by the scientific name Mitragyna speciosa, is a tree native to Southeast Asia. Kratom has traditionally been used in Southeast Asia to treat pain, stomach upset and mental health issues. While kratom provides an energy boost in small doses, in larger quantities it has a sedative effect markedly similar to opioids like morphine. This is no surprise, since kratom is now classified as an opioid by the FDA.  

Kratom was outlawed in Thailand in 1943 during Thailand’s own opioid addiction crisis, and was only legalized in 2018 for medical use. However, kratom addiction is reemerging in southern Thailand; in one province, experts estimate that kratom addiction is rampant in about 90 percent of villages.

Kratom’s Legal Status in the US is Unclear

Kratom has recently been the subject of debate among its supporters, who say kratom could safely treat opioid addiction, and policymakers, who are worried about its addictive qualities. Several US cities and states have outlawed it, but elsewhere it is available in supplements and beverages.

In 2016 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced plans to ban kratom, but later reversed its decision due to public outcry. The agency is currently reviewing data gathered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make a decision, but until then, kratom is available and unregulated. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently warned that “no kratom product is safe,” and there have been numerous instances of sickness and death resulting from contaminated or misused kratom.

Is Kratom an Opioid? It Hardly Matters.

Regardless of its legal status, little doubt remains that kratom is dangerous and highly addictive. Kratom causes dependency in those who abuse it, and the effects of kratom addiction are no different than any other opioid.

Kratom products have been found to contain salmonella, toxic heavy metals, and even other opioids like hydrocodone; it also causes unexpected interactions when taken with other drugs.

Kratom is not an approved treatment for opioid use disorder, and using it as such can result in kratom addiction, which is nearly indistinguishable from — and equally devastating as — any other opioid addiction. Simply put, the numerous risks of kratom far outweigh the dubious benefits.

The hold of opioids over a person can be strong, but with the right treatment, there is hope. The Sanctuary offers a holistic alternative to 12-step programs, going deeper to treat the trauma at the root of opioid addiction.