CADILLAC — Do you know what kratom is?
That is a question that Heidy Haskin asked herself after the death of her son Joshua Kamphouse in August 2018. Although her son’s official cause of death was suicide, Haskin said she believes Kratom played a role, too.
Like many who are survivors of suicide, Haskin was left with questions after her son’s unexpected death. It wasn’t until after his death that she found he had been using kratom. She was going through his truck when she found empty kratom bottles. Not knowing what it was, she researched it and that is when she found how dangerous the substance is.
“They promote it for energy, pain relief and people getting off of opioids,‘ she said. “I found seven or nine bottles in Joshua’s truck. He had been buying kratom for a year. He started in July 2017.‘
Haskin said her son liked to work out and had aches and pains associated with that. She assumes that is why he took it. Through her research of the substance, she also found it seems to help with muscle growth but the adverse effects are much more concerning.
WHAT IS KRATOM?
Kratom is an herbal extract that comes from the leaves of an evergreen tree grown in Southeast Asia. Kratom leaves can be chewed, and dry kratom can be swallowed or brewed. Kratom extract also can be used to make a liquid product.
The liquid form is often marketed as a treatment for muscle pain, or to suppress appetite and stop cramps and diarrhea, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Kratom is also sold as a treatment for panic attacks.
People who use kratom for relaxation report that because it is plant-based, it is natural and safe. However, the amount of active ingredient in kratom plants can vary greatly, making it difficult to gauge the effect of a given dose, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Depending on what is in the plant and the health of the user, the Mayo Clinic said taking kratom may be very dangerous.
Side effects include weight loss, dry mouth, chills, nausea and vomiting, changes in urine and constipation, liver damage and muscle pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to those side effects, the Mayo Clinic said it also affects the mind and nervous system.
These effects include dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations and delusion, depression and delusion, breathing suppression, seizure, coma, and death.
“I remember him taking the capsules, pulling them apart and putting it in his tea. He said they were for pre-workout and I didn’t think anything of it,‘ she said. “Then after he died I found all the bottles and started doing research.‘
The Mayo Clinic reports that some researchers believed kratom might be a safe alternative to opioids and other prescription pain medications but studies on the effects of kratom identified many safety concerns and no clear benefits. Kratom is not currently regulated in the United States, and federal agencies are taking action to combat false claims about kratom, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In an emailed response, Dr. James Whelan said he is not an expert on kratom but he has had several patients who admitted using it. He said those patients’ mental status and blood pressures were adversely affected and those patients also had a hard time weaning off of it.
LAW ENFORCEMENT IS TAKING NOTICE
Cadillac police officer Jake Foutch has been working in the area since March 2019.
Before he started working in Cadillac nearly a year ago he said he worked eight years in Wyoming as a police officer. During his tenure in Wyoming, he saw kratom twice. If you asked him his opinion, he would have told you it wasn’t a big thing.
He wouldn’t tell you that if you asked him about kratom use in Cadillac.
“It is a big thing in this town. Probably every other time I deal with a narcotics user they will have (kratom) in their house or car,‘ he said.
He said when he finds it, a lot of the people who have it are heroin or methamphetamine addicts. He said it can be purchased in powder or pill form and if enough is taken it can give a euphoric feeling.
Wexford County Prosecutor Jason Elmore said he is aware of the substance’s growing presence locally. Like Foutch, Elmore said it reportedly creates stimulation effects at low doses and an opioid-like depressant and euphoric effect at the higher doses.
“We are seeing that some of those locally who struggle with substance abuse turn to kratom to address opioid withdrawal symptoms,‘ Elmore said. “We want to see people safely and effectively address substance use disorder; however, we are concerned that some simply use it between getting their opiates.‘
Elmore said there are prescription medications available for opioid withdrawals such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, which are more effective when coupled with counseling. The problem is there is limited access to medication-assisted treatment programs.
COULD KRATOM SOON BE BANNED?
Kratom is often purchased over the internet or at smoke shops and claims to address anxiety, chronic pain, and opioid withdrawal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, has not approved it for any medical purpose. While the FDA has raised concerns, the Drug Enforcement Administration has not yet made it a scheduled substance. The DEA, however, lists it as a drug of concern.
Some states have banned the substance, but in Michigan, there are no restrictions. There is, however, a bill in the Michigan Senate, Senate Bill 433.
The bill, which was sponsored by 19th District Sen. Dr. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek, aims to make kratom a schedule 2 controlled substance. It was introduced on Aug. 20 and the same day it was sent to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. It remains in that committee.
Haskin had not heard of the SB 433 but she is hopeful that it will help to get the substance out of the hands of others. She also said she would like to see the kratom taken right off the shelf.
“Out of this tragedy (the death of her son) if I can do anything to help one person I will do whatever it will take. This has been a nightmare for me,‘ she said. “This could have been prevented and that is the sad part of this. It brings you to a dark place and makes you feel hopeless. They are advertising this as a great thing and they have no idea what it is about to do to them.‘