NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A drug you can find at a gas station in Tennessee has been detected in more overdose deaths this year compared to last year, and the fact that it’s so easy to access has some recovery physicians growing concerned.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, and its leaves can produce both stimulant and sedative effects, depending on how much is ingested. The drug is often used as an alternative to opioids.
“I was suffering from addiction at the time, and one of the miraculous things about this plant is it immediately halts any withdrawal symptoms,” Catherine Nieves said. “It has an incredible potential for having a major effect on, if not solving, the opioid epidemic.”
Kratom was detected in 3.6% of overdose deaths in Davidson County so far this year, according to the Metro Public Health Department, compared to 2.6% this time last year.
Even though the drug was detected in the deadly overdoses, it doesn’t necessarily mean the person died from Kratom.
“If you look on that list, Kratom is implicated in like 2.6% of overdose deaths, so it’s not like Kratom has a huge possibility for causing an overdose death,” Dr. Chapman Sledge, chief medical director at Cumberland Heights said.
However, Sledge told News 2 Kratom can still be problematic in other ways, including potentially causing someone in recovery to fall back into their addiction.
“You buy it at the gas station and it has a very low perception of risk, and for people who are trying to recover from an opioid use disorder, it seems like a benign substance to use to help with some of the discomfort and craving, and it drives people back into active opioid use,” Sledge said.
Multiple bills regulating and even banning Kratom have failed year after year in the Tennessee Legislature, including a proposal last session that would have required all ingredients and instructions for safe use to be listed on every Kratom label.
Groups like the American Kratom Association support similar regulations to protect consumers.
However, Sledge still worries about the potential harms of the drug.
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“That’s distressing to me, that people who are making sincere efforts to recover are derailed by this apparently innocuous drug you can buy at a gas station,” Sledge said.
Despite proponents’ claims that kratom can provide health benefits, including relieving anxiety and pain, the FDA has not approved Kratom for any prescription or over-the-counter use.