A national crisis
Prescription drug abuse is at an all time high in the United States. While tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives can be misused, pain relievers are the class of drugs most often abused, and abuse can lead to addiction. The drugs usually prescribed for pain relief come from the opioid class and include oxycodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, diphenoxylate and hydrocodone. Addiction can result from the unintentional overuse of a legitimate prescription, or it can come from illegally obtained medications. On the street, these drugs go by the names 40, 80, cotton, oxy and blue.
Pain medication can be an absolute godsend to people with chronic pain disorders or for those recovering from surgery or dealing with cancer. Opioids provide pain relief by acting on the central nervous system. They slow the transmission of pain signals between the body and the brain. Even when taken at the prescribed dosage and for legitimate reasons, they can have side effects. Those side effects include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, lightheadedness, itching, mood changes and constipation. If taken in large amounts or for too long a time, they can quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction. Other dangerous side effects of abusing these drugs include slowed brain function, depressed breathing, irregular heartbeat, hyperthermia -- a dangerously high body temperature -- paranoia and seizures. Taken with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or sleeping pills, they can reduce breathing and heart rate to the point of death.
Prescription drug abuse ruins lives
The social and emotional implications of prescription drug abuse can be just as devastating as the physical ones. Many people become addicted to pain pills when they take a legally-prescribed drug for a valid health problem. But pain killing drugs are very potent and can quickly become addicting. Others may have become addicted when they were encouraged by friends to try the drugs or as a means of stress relieve. Children and young adults are most at risk because they are very susceptible to peer pressure.
No one wants to be addicted to drugs. Drug abuse can destroy families. It can break up friendships. It can ruin careers. People with addiction problems face job loss, divorce, financial problems and even a drastically higher rate of homelessness. Long-term health risks associated with prescription drug abuse include high blood pressure, brain damage and liver and kidney disease.
Florida at the epicenter
While Florida is only one out of 50 states, and has a population of just under 20 million, it accounts for nearly 80 percent of all the opiate pain prescriptions written every year. Not surprisingly, Florida also leads the nation in pain pill addiction. Some of the pills make it to the street through legitimate doctors issuing legitimate prescriptions. Others are churned out by "pill mills," clinics and doctors who deliberately over-prescribe pain pills to co-conspirators and then profit from their illegal sale.
People want -- and need -- help
Clearly, prescription drug abuse is a growing and dangerous health threat. In fact, more people die every year from overdosing on prescription pain killers than die from the abuse of cocaine and heroin combined. But it is also true that no one deliberately chooses to be a drug addict, and most people who realize they have a problem are desperate for help to overcome it.
Because of the high need, rehabilitation centers have sprung up all over Florida. Treatment options include in-patient and out-patient programs, some run by doctors, hospitals or clinics. Others are run by non-profit organizations. Still others are simply casually formed self-help groups. Most people need this outside help. Simply going "cold turkey" can be difficult, and even dangerous, because of the severe physical symptoms that can come from pain pill withdrawal.
There are many different programs out there that have proven themselves effective. Some are modeled on the 12-step program used by by Alcoholics Anonymous, others use anesthesia to allow people to sleep through the worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms. Other programs focus on counseling, trying to get to the root of the emotional pain that led people into their addictive behavior. There are also faith-based programs as well as programs that tailor treatment plans for each patient, using whatever combination of protocols work best for the individual. Sometimes other drugs, such as methadone, are prescribed to help ease the transition from the addicting substance, though drugs like methadone can, themselves, become addicting.
Kratom - a natural alternative?
Because different programs have varying degrees of success, and can also be very expensive -- especially those that require in-patient care -- there is always room for alternative treatments. The herb kratom is one alternative that is showing promise in treating pain pill addiction. Kratom is an all natural herb made from a plant grown in Asia. Kratom works for people who are addicted to pain killers because it tricks the brain into thinking that opiates have been consumed. This can be a valuable aid to anyone going through the withdrawal phase of an opiate-based prescription drug addiction because kratom extract can help ameliorate the painful physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Kratom is already gaining a reputation in Florida, where the prescription drug problem is at a crisis level. Several Christian rehabilitation centers are already using it to great effect and are touting its results. Sales of kratom extract in the Sunshine state have grown by nearly 1000 percent as the news of its effectiveness has spread.
While at high doses, kratom can act as a stimulant, at lower doses it can make users feel calm, less stressed, and, of course, can reduce the craving for opiate-based drugs. Its effects can start within 5 to ten minutes of ingestion and can last for several hours.
While it is a natural herb, like all psychoactive drugs, kratom can have side effects, and anyone who uses it should be aware of them. Side effects can include dry mouth, loss of appetite and increased urination. Like all medicinal products, kratom should be used for the shortest time possible and at the lowest effective dose. Possible side effects from long term use can include weight loss, insomnia and even a small risk of dependence. Like other pain relievers, it should not be mixed with sedatives or alcohol.
The history of kratom
Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a large tree that grows naturally in Thailand and Malaysia. It grows from 12 to 30 feet in height and produces large, dark green, oval-shaped leaves. The tree thrives in wet, humid places and requires fertile soil, lots of sun and protection from strong winds. It sheds and re-grows its leaves throughout the year, though they are most abundant during the region's rainy season. The tree sets bright yellow bunches of flowers each composed of hundreds of flowerets.
Kratom has been used medicinally in Indochina and Southeast Asia as far back as Dutch colonial times, and perhaps for thousands of years before that. It was used traditionally for the treatment of diarrhea and also for opium addiction. Kratom is from the same family as Uncaria -- the herb called cat's claw -- and shares some of its biological properties.
Kratom has only recently come to the attention of Western users in both Europe and the United States. It is being used for pain pill addictions, of course, but also for chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
Kratom extract comes from the dried leaves of the tree. In Thailand, the leaves are traditionally chewed fresh or they are dried and crushed then made into a paste which is easily swallowed or even made into tea. In the West, it is popular to buy kratom and then mix it with black or herbal teas and sweeten it with a bit with honey or sugar. It is usually sold in the United States as a very fine powder.
Is it legal?
At the moment, yes. People can buy kratom at hundreds of outlets on the Internet. Like many herbal remedies, kratom has been overlooked by the big pharmaceutical companies because they stand very little chance of making a big profit from it. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve the use of kratom, but as its popularity soars and its uses and properties become more understood, the FDA may choose to study it.
No medicinal substance -- whether herbal or pharmaceutical -- is without possible risks and side effects. If you doubt that, listen to the long list of disclaimers at the end of all the prescription drug ads shown on TV every night. Whether you are taking an FDA approved drug prescribed by your doctor or trying a time-honored herbal remedy, the secret is to educate yourself. Learn all you can about any product before you put it in your body and always be alert to adverse reactions and side effects.
The fight continues
The problem of prescription drug abuse is a complex one. Because of its widespread and devastating consequences, it has to be fought at the national, state and even personal level. Whatever tools work best to help free people from this tragic problem should be used. If kratom can reduce the cravings that people experience when trying to break a pain pill habit, it may just be one of the best tools at hand.