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Kratom: a legal drug that is gaining popularity, but could be da - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Kratom: a legal drug that is gaining popularity, but could be dangerous

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A new drug is on the market in smoke shops across the country, and some are calling it the next "legal high".

It can be taken in a capsule, brewed into tea, or found as a liquid, and it's completely legal for anyone over the age 18 to buy in the state of Louisiana.

KATC's Investigative Team dug a little deeper into the drug to get answers on where it came from and why it could be dangerous.
 
Kratom is a relative of coffee that first used by Asian natives who chewed the leaves from the Kratom tree.

"It's an evergreen tree that's indigenous to southeast Asia and Indonesia," said LaCretia Prudhomme, Director of Admissions at the Acadiana Addiction Center. "The leaves of the tree are actually psychoactive."

As a completely legal substance in Louisiana, Kratom is fairly easy to buy. The investigative team was able to buy packet of Kratom Silver at a local shop in Lafayette.

Many users buy Kratom for its convenience and cost-effectiveness.

"In low doses, it acts like an opioid, like an opiate, pain pills," said Prudhomme.
 
Some users take Kratom in place of opiates. 

"And they get the same effect from that," said Prudhomme. "In high, doses, it can actually have a sedative effect. Such as if you would take Valium, or Xanax or Klonopin."

The long-term effects of Kratom are unknown because it's not monitored by the FDA or DEA.

It's banned in four states across the country, and strongly discouraged in some parts of this state.    

"So we told them our concerns about it and he said, 'Well if you have any concerns about it, we'll take it off the shelf and we won't sell it,' " said Eunice police chief Randy Fontenot of a local smoke shop that stopped selling Kratom, per the chief's request.

While it's no longer sold in Eunice, it's available across most of the country, and addiction specialists like Prudhomme and law enforcement officials like Fontenot are concerned Kratom is becoming the next dangerous fad.

"Usage is increasing and we're beginning to capture a lot of that on admission now, where we're specifically asking about that," said Prudhomme. "Just like when the synthetic came out."

Louisiana Poison Control said they have received 15 calls about the drug in the last two years. 11 users had issues like nausea and vomiting, and one experienced hallucinations.

"We've had so many problems with what they call the legal weed, the bath salts and all of that," said Fontenot. "This was something new that I hadn't heard about, so I looked into it a little bit. Obviously it's stuff that's not really made for human consumption."

Prudhomme said Kratom use comes with major withdrawals that require a detox similar to opiates. 

"I just basically want to get the warning out there for people not to try to follow those trends," said Fontenot. "Don't smoke this stuff or consume it. Stay away from it. It's banned in the country where it's produced for a reason."

Prudhomme said it's a drug to keep an eye on.

"When the synthetic marijuana finally hit in our community, in our state, in south Louisiana, it was kind of behind the rest of the country for some reason," said Prudhomme. "And so, they're seeing it in a lot of other states and we're beginning to see it and hear about it more. So I suspect that it is going to be the new trend that we're going to have to be looking out for very closely."

Kratom is legal in most states, but it's landed on the list of the DEA's drugs of concern.

In Louisiana bills to outlaw it have gone to the legislature in 2012 and 2014. All of them failed, but it is illegal for minors to buy the drug.

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