In January 2017, Ron Porritt remembers waking up with a sheriff’s deputy standing over him. He had overdosed on heroin, and a friend had called the police. It was at that moment he realized his life needed to change. He went through a detox program and managed to stay off the opiates but found himself in pain from his arthritis and still struggled with his urges for opiates. “I was willing to try anything,” Porritt says.
As Patrick Sullivan writes in this week’s Northern Express – sister publication of The Ticker – in March 2019 Porritt found something that gave him relief and helped him take back control of his life: kratom. Kratom comes from a tree, Mitragyna Speciosa, that grows in tropical regions of Southeast Asia. It is a cousin of the region’s coffee plants. Traditionally, its leaves and extracts have been used within the tree’s home countries for what is thought to be its medicinal properties — to increase energy and appetite, for intestinal deworming, and as a mood enhancer and pain reliever. Most commonly today, its leaves are harvested and turned into a powder that can be ingested as is, or in a capsule. According to the American Kratom Association, about five million Americans consume kratom.
In recent years, as the opioid crisis has ballooned, kratom has grown in popularity as an alternative to opiates. Former addicts say kratom helps stave off withdrawal symptoms, which, ultimately keeps them drug-free. However, kratom is not tested or approved by the FDA, and some question its consistency and effects on the user. Additionally, there have been reports of deaths linked to kratom.
Prior to taking kratom, Porritt struggled to put in six hours of work a day. “I was just dragging, and I hurt,” says Porritt, who works in general labor and now uses CBD oil as well. “I tried kratom, and it was like it brought me back to when I was 20.” Porritt says he has gone for four or five days without any kratom and hasn’t felt sick or experienced any side effects. “I don’t know if it is addictive or not, but it works,” Porritt says. “You can’t have a cookie-cutter approach for this addiction problem we have. There are many different paths. This works for me, but this might not work for the next person. If it is able to help one person, or five percent of the people who might end up in the ground, why would they take something like that away?”
Adam DeVaney is a licensed clinical social worker at Life’s Work, a behavioral health and opioid addiction medicine clinic in Kalkaska. The facility has only been open for about nine months, but is seeing some success. Often, patients are already using kratom prior to coming to the clinic for Buprenorphine — a pharmaceutical drug used to wean addicts off opiates. “Many of the patients found [kratom] does help,” DeVaney says. “But it is a lot less stable than Suboxone or other types of drugs like that. A lot of patients use it to tamp down their withdrawals from opiates.”
He warns that the consistency in kratom can be very unreliable, and people should research which strain of kratom is best for them before taking it. Additionally, he suggests taking smaller doses at first. “Everybody is trying to find balance in their life, and kratom is definitely one of the ways people are seeking that,” DeVaney says. “From one bag to another, kratom can be quite different. The challenge with a plant-based product that is grown from the same strain of kratom overseas, in the same field, produces a different result every year. It is not as consistent as a pharmaceutical, but many people feel that it is more affordable and more accessible than medical-assisted treatment for opioid abuse and disorders.” DeVaney doesn’t discourage anyone from using kratom, but says a successful recovery often requires a team of professionals that are looking out for them and can address behavioral issues.
Read more about kratom and its potential benefits and drawbacks in this week’s Northern Express, available to read onlline and on newsstands at nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.