Man Arrested For Selling Herb Some Opioid Addicts Call A Lifesaver

The substance, kratom, is used to help wean addicts off heroin, but some states treat like heroin itself

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May 15, 2017 at 3:34 PM ET

A Tennessee man was arrested over the weekend for intent to sell five pounds of powdered kratom, a plant originally from Southeast Asia, and his bond was set at a staggering $22,500, according to local reports. Advocates — who say the herb is natural remedy with medicinal uses — were furious.

Often consumed as a tea, kratom produces mild, opiate-like effects in users, which communities of users say help them wean themselves off dangerous opioid addictions. Kratom is still legal in many U.S. states but banned in others. The Drug Enforcement Administration considered classifying it as a schedule I drug — the same category as heroin — last fall, but then pulled the proposed change.

The arrested sparked outrage in a private Facebook group called Opiate and Opioid Addicts, an online support group for those suffering from addiction, because to them, the plant can be the difference between getting clean or becoming yet another victim of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States.

“The dumbest ‘drug bust’ in history,” said one member of the group on a thread about the arrest that generated dozens of comments. Another added: “This breaks my heart, like literally breaks my heart. Kratom and weed saved my life.”

Like marijuana, kratom doesn’t have a consistent legal status across all 50 states. In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency was set to classify kratom as a Schedule I substance before public outcry forced it to drop the proposal. According to the American Kratom Association, kratom is illegal in six states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. These states have also been among the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

Kratom is a plant similar to coffee, but it can produce some of the same painkilling effects that opiates have when it’s ingested. It looks like a green powder and can be swallowed in a pill or added to tea. Opioid addicts who take it say it doesn’t have the same addictive qualities as heroin or prescription painkillers, and it can help addicts overcome withdraw symptoms when while they’re trying to get clean.

Members of Opiate and Opioid Addicts on Facebook lashed out at police and the state of Tennessee for cracking down on what they see as one of the few lifelines available to those suffering from addiction, and they blamed “Big Pharma” for the herb’s ambiguous legal status.

They also bombarded the Nashville police department’s Facebook page with angry comments after NPD posted a story about the man’s arrest. While most posts on the NPD page generate only a handful of comments, the man’s arrest generated more than one hundred, with many taking specific exception to the department calling kratom a “synthetic opiate.”

Kratom is NOT synthetic heroine, it’s not even synthetic! It’s a plant in the coffee family [sic],” reads the top comment on the post. “It helps relieve pain, increase entry and works like a natural anti depressant it creates zero high and impossible to over dose on. Some kratom users take it to help with heroine withdrawals but it doesn’t not make you feel like an opiate. This kind of ignorance is why it’s illegal in Tennessee. It’s legal in almost every state. [sic]”