Chemical Dependency is the ultimate expression of existential vacuum; a state of habitual unconsciousness to the exclusion of all meaningful activity and relationships. In existential terms, it is necessary to discover some greater sense of purpose in order for the dissolution of such a painful state of emptiness to occur. The great existential theorist, Victor Frankl stated “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with any ‘how’.” In this case, the ‘why’ is the meaningfulness that the recovering person ascribes to their sobriety. However, many young clients arrive in treatment confused, fragmented, resistant or unwilling.
Proponents of Kratom will describe it as an innocuous herbal preparation with medicinal properties that are calming and relaxing rather than mood altering and habit forming. The internet is saturated with pro-Kratom marketing propaganda that lauds Kratom as everything from the cure for opiate addiction to the solution for social anxiety and chronic pain. Its withdrawal symptoms are dismissed as being no more harmful than those associated with coffee. Kratom is legal in the United States and can be purchased online, at kava bars and sometimes gas stations. The vast majority of people have never heard of Kratom, which has yet to draw the type of negative press that has resulted in the illegalization of bath salts and synthetic marijuana in recent years.
Within the South Florida addiction recovery and treatment subculture, Kratom is well known as a major obstacle for recovering addicts. The substance’s accessibility, low prices and likeness to opiates make it near irresistible to individuals in early recovery who are struggling to maintain a foothold on sobriety. That temptation is made greater for the hundreds of recovering individuals residing in South Florida recovery residences as Kratom is difficult to detect by urine drug screen, requiring expensive laboratory analysis in order for its presence to be identified. For an addicted person, the idea of being able to get high through the use of a seemingly harmless substance one time without getting caught is the precipice of relapse. That mere idea can rapidly change the individual’s relationship with Kratom or their drug of choice, resulting in mental obsession and a hurried return to compulsive use.
This scenario is being played out in South Florida on a daily basis. Some have gone so far as to suggest that Kratom purveyors in Boca Raton and Delray Beach are deliberately targeting recovering individuals. There are Kratom bars that are curiously located near twelve step recovery meeting clubhouses and recovery residences. While the proximity may be coincidental, it has the appearance of being strategic. If this is true, we are faced with a tragic example of the exploitation of a very vulnerable population of individuals for the purpose of financial gain. It’s the moral equivalent of having an adult push drugs on the campus of a middle school.
In October of 2014, the Broward County Commission convened in order to consider a proposed Kratom ban for the county. Despite the heartfelt pleas of recovering addicts and cautionary admonishment from the substance abuse treatment community, the Commission voted unanimously against the ban with the exception of Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who had initially proposed the ordinance. The tone of the discourse from the other commissioners was fairly dismissive of any potential dangers associated with Kratom, and it was pretty clear that the commissioners remained unmoved by any of the pro-ban testimony. In the end, the ban’s opposition cited a lack of available published research or convincing evidence as their central reasoning for refusing to support the ban.
Despite her difficulties in getting the proposed ban passed in Broward County, Kristin Jacobs, now a Florida State Representative continues to lead the charge against Kratom in Tallahassee. She has recently filed a bill, that if passed would make Kratom a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This would mean that under Florida Statute 893.03 Kratom would be defined as a substance with high abuse potential and no approved medical use. Kratom would then be illegal to sell or possess similarly to synthetic marijuana, the possession of which is now a Class 3 Misdemeanor. Earlier this month the bill passed the first round of voting by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice by one vote which is extremely encouraging. The bill will be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in the Florida House of Representatives later today.
A closer examination of the proceedings of October 28th and the failed attempt to have Kratom banned in Fort Lauderdale illustrate the breadth of the challenge faced by law makers and recovery advocates who have persevered in the face of greed, indifference, ignorance and apathy. First, there was the presence of veteran Tallahassee lobbyist, Albert Balido, who is representing the interests of the pro-Kratom movement state wide. Surprisingly, these devoted tea drinkers are well organized and have the financial resources to bring significant political muscle to bear. This same strategy has been employed for years by big tobacco and others for-profit industries whose products have a clear link to public health problems. What we can surmise here is that Kratom is a profitable product with very dedicated customer base. Purveyors of Kratom have enjoyed immunity from any responsibility from the havoc that Kratom availability has had on South Florida’s recovering community because the substance is legal.
Dr. Raul Rodriguez, Medical Director of the Delray Healing Center also testified at the proceeding on behalf of the pro-ban agenda. Rodriguez is arguably the state’s leading medical expert on Kratom, and was the first to isolate the Kratom molecule so that it could be detected in urine drug screens. Rodriguez stated unequivocally that Kratom is very addictive, and that it has a severe withdrawal syndrome that requires medical intervention. So, perhaps this explains the dedication of the Kratom faithful, as chemically dependent individuals tend be reliable patrons of products upon which they are reliant in order to feel normal.
Dr. Craig Mallak, Chief Medical Examiner for Broward County also testified before the Commission during the Kratom hearing. Mallak stated that his office had yet to determine Kratom to be the cause of death in any of the autopsies that have been conducted out of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office at any time. He also admitted that the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office does not conduct any laboratory testing to determine the presence of Kratom post-mortem during the autopsy process. So, the assertion that Kratom cannot be implicated as the cause of death resulting from autopsies conducted by the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office appears to be more a matter of speculation than fact. It is often very difficult to find something when you’re not actually looking for it.
If the state law ultimately passes, then presumably the Kratom bars will have to close up shop and one major obstacle against recovery will be removed from the South Florida landscape.
Eric Bricker LMHC CAP
Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431