AUSTIN (KXAN) - A local drug treatment facility has seen a sharp surge in people checking in for addiction to a substance called Kratom.
"Its a legal opiate- its a legal heroin," said Angela Vickrey, Director of Admissions for the Austin Recovery Center, where they have treated seven patients for Kratom addiction in the last 90 days. "It basically has the same effect that opiates do- opiates being heroin and pain medication in large quantities- in low dose- its a stimulant."
Kratom has been around for centuries, an herb that many describe as similar to caffeine in low doses. But Vickrey said the danger is when users consume the herb in extremely high doses.
"As they're getting clean and sober- a week or two in to treatment what appears are psychotic symptoms that are pretty scary- psychosis, not in touch with reality- their thought process is not accurate- they're not oriented to time and place- I mean, its pretty frightening," said Vickrey.
Kratom is available in most smoke shops and can be purchased online. Those who use Kratom in small doses for things like anxiety and depression say the herb has helped their symptoms and argue that when it is used responsibly, it can benefit users.
"I think there should be some type of regulation- on the federal level and in the state- to be able to monitor or perhaps even ban the sale of the substance," said Vickrey.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed Kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern. A 2010 study showed Kratom had opiate-like results in animals- reducing pain, producing sedative and euphoric effects- and a host of other side effects including nausea, constipation, loss of appetite and even psychotic symptoms in some Kkratom addicts. Other serious side effects include hallucinations, delusions, and confusion.
"The initial effects are stimulating, similar to cocaine- amphetamine, large amounts of caffeine and then at high doses it affects the same opiate site like heroin and pain killers so it will be sedating, euphoria is common," said Vickrey.
The Austin Recovery Center is seeing addicts mostly in their mid-20s.
"Its new and its edgy and there's the great unknown about it and kids seem to be attracted to that and so the best advice I could say is don't try it- don't use it," said Vickrey.
There have been no reported deaths associated with using Kratom. The Kratom Association- which is a national advocacy network determined to keep the herb legal, argues it is not physically addictive.
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