• Grayson See | Contributing Writer

Legal drug gains popularity in midst of opioid epidemic

A legal plant drug has been gaining popularity in Milledgeville due to the growing problem of opioid addiction, but some law enforcement officials warn that it may not be completely safe.

The plant known as Kratom, which can be purchased by anyone over 18, is most often taken by addicts trying to end opioid and heroin addictions. However, it is also used recreationally and used by some with ADHD hoping to minimize symptoms.

Bunty Panjwani, a manager at Pipe Dreams, a Milledgeville store specializing in smoking and vaping supplies, said that Kratom alone makes up about 10 percent of the store’s sales.

“It is getting a little bit more popular,¨ Panjuwani said. “The main cause is [it can be used] for natural pain relief, and that’s what people are needing to calm their nerves down and anxiety and stress. The people who are just older, vets and stuff, like I said, they just want more of a natural way than having to be on pills.”

The safety of Kratom is not fully known. Because of its similarities to opioids such as heroin and Oxycontin, some in medicine and criminal justice are warning against its use, including Commander Wesley Nunn of the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force.

“We have enough stuff to be addicted to,” Nunn said. He added that just because something is legal does not mean people should go take it, and that, if Kratom is similar to opioids, it should be made illegal.

Nunn also expressed how big of a problem opioid abuse has been in his jurisdiction. Nunn said that, while prescription pills have a larger presence, heroin has been found in Milledgeville as well.

Zack Tucker, a sophomore at GMC and golf cart driver for Station on McIntosh, spoke out about his use of Kratom.

“I have ADHD, so I’m always staying up late, and when I take ADHD medication, I stay up almost until the sun rises,” Tucker said. “So with Kratom, I’ve taken it, and it helps so much with sleep…From what I [have] experienced, it’s very relaxing. It calms me down and helps me not worry.”

Tucker said that he is not concerned about the risk of addiction because he thinks he is taking the drug responsibly.

Consuming the leaves of the Kratom plant affects the brain’s opioid receptors. Its two primary components, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, have very similar effects to standard opioids including pain-relief, physical addiction and withdrawals, according to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

While it is certain that Kratom is addictive, how much so is unclear. Kratom’s effects are typically much less intense than those of standard opioids. However, in the plant’s native Southeast Asia, many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, have banned Kratom’s use due to its rampant abuse.

Some states and cities, including Alabama and the city of Sarasota, Florida, have banned the substance. But Kratom is still currently legal for adult purchase in 44 states and can commonly be found in many smoke shops and gas stations.

In 2016, the FDA considered emergency scheduling Kratom, which would have banned the plant and labeled it a Schedule 1 substance alongside heroin, marijuana and LSD for two years, but considerable public outcry and protests from Kratom users and supporters postponed their decision.

However, the FDA is still actively researching Kratom and considering how it will regulate the substance.

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