We’re about to lose the best way to ease the symptoms of the opioid epidemic

I’m relatively certain that the opioid epidemic isn’t directly caused by access to opioids. Rather, it seems like a symptom of deeper problems eg hopelessness & the inability of many to find meaningful work.

That said, I see no reason to make the symptoms worse by increasing the availability of opioids. Our friends over at the FDA & DEA however, seem to be pushing for exactly that: more opioids or, at least, no less.

Why would they push for that?
– My cynical side says that opioids are staggeringly profitable and that they’re being bribed (oops I mean lobbied) to do so by big pharma.
– My more optimistic side attributes it to good intentions mixed with ignorance.

What makes me think they’re even pushing for more opioids? Because there’s an ongoing campaign to list Kratom as a schedule I controlled substance.

For context, that means the government would consider kratom “worse” than Fentanyl which is schedule II.

Fentanyl: not as bad as Kratom?

Fentanyl is heroin’s evil twin: hundreds of times more potent & deviously enough, often mixed with heroin by unscrupulous drug dealers to bring potency back to a diluted product. Mixing fentanyl with heroine is a great way to kill someone via overdose. And fentanyl alone is just a plain good way to kill someone: it was recently used to execute an inmate in Nebraska.

Dark web drug markets take a somewhat more lenient view on drug use than the DEA but even these black markets have been known to ban the sale of fentanyl out of concern for it’s customer’s safety.

Fentanyl, a drug so dangerous even criminals won’t sell it, is still profitable in the mainstream medical field where tightly controlled dosages reduce the risk of overdose while it’s sheer potency makes it a much cheaper alternative to more well-known opioids (gotta love those profit margins).

What is Kratom?

From the results of this study:

Kratom leaves and extracts have been used for centuries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere to manage pain and other disorders and, by mid-twentieth century, to manage opioid withdrawal. Kratom has some opioid effects but low respiratory depression and abuse potential compared to opioids of abuse. This appears due to its non-opioid-derived and resembling molecular structure recently referred to as biased agonists. By the early 2000s, kratom was increasingly used in the US as a natural remedy to improve mood and quality of life and as substitutes for prescription and illicit opioids for managing pain and opioid withdrawal by people seeking abstinence from opioids. There has been no documented threat to public health that would appear to warrant emergency scheduling of the products and placement in Schedule I of the CSA carries risks of creating serious public health problems.

Kratom is illegal in only a couple states, of which my home-state Indiana is one of them (shout out to Eli Lilly). My time spent in Portland, OR gave me the opportunity to experiment with Kratom and I’m impressed.

It’s a bitter green powder that, if eaten on an empty stomach, produces a gentle buzz that’s mildly stimulating & euphoric. I’ve taken some in the morning along with coffee before some of my most productive programming sessions. Don’t take too much otherwise you’ll be hit by nausea, a little more and you’ll vomit.

It is impossible to overdose on this stuff the same way it’s impossible to overdose on THC: 0 deaths have been attributed to kratom overdoses (although some kratom was contaminated by salmonella recently and the FDA tried to point this out as evidence of what a dirty dangerous drug it is).

As someone who’s experimented with Nicotine, I can say without a single doubt that Nicotine is categorically more addictive than kratom. As someone who’s experimented with THC, it seems to be similarly habit-forming but without any chemically-fueled addictiveness on top of that.

Kratom’s fatal flaw

So why does the DEA think Kratom is worse than Fentanyl? Because of one glaring problem: it’s frightfully cheap and could ruin the party that’s raging in the stunningly profitable market of pain relief.

Don’t take this to mean that pharmaceutical companies aren’t supposed to help people, they are. In the words of Mr. Huph, Mr. Incredible’s boss at Insuricare: “We’re supposed to help OUR people, Bob! Starting with our stock holders, who’s helping them out?!”

Again, I believe that the opioid crisis is only a symptom of deeper problems and these problems need to be, above all, identified. But identifying, let alone fixing, them is no small task.

In the mean time, we have the tools required to greatly ease the symptoms of the opioid crisis but our government’s greed (or, hopefully, ignorance) is striving to keep these medicines from those who need them the most.