An Open Letter To The DEA On Its Plans To Ban Kratom, An Herbal Treatment For My Pain

I choose kratom because the alternative is opiates or agony, and I want neither.

I came across kratom about 5 years ago while searching for something to help the chronic pain in my feet and legs due to non-diabetic neuropathy. As a registered nurse in a busy ICU unit, I’m on my feet for 12+ hours at a time, 3-4 days a week. Kratom is absolutely the only thing I have ever found that helps my pain enough for me to be able to continue doing the job I love.

I’m not the kind of person who’s against prescription medication, or who says I’m not going to take anything a doctor gives me. I see the miracle of modern medicine in action on a daily basis. But I feel that kratom is the best treatment FOR ME. It may not be right for others, but for me it’s the only option I have. Taking opiates is just not an option I am willing to accept, and with good reason.

The hospital where I work is in Scioto County, Ohio, which is somewhat notorious for being the starting point of the whole Appalachian opioid epidemic. In the 20 years I have worked there, I have seen the whole nightmare unfold. When I first started, fresh out of nursing school, I had never even heard of people overdosing on, well, anything, actually. Then oxycontin came along and the pill mills popped up. One of our area’s best physicians, orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Lilly, was the first high-profile case of a doctor getting arrested for selling oxycontin. Then another area doctor was charged with the wrongful deaths of four young people due to overdosing on the drugs he provided. But it only got worse from there. After the authorities started cracking down on bad doctors and shutting down the clinics, the heroin came along.

No one has any idea the extent of the addiction problem unless they are right in the middle of it, as all of my coworkers and I are every day. There are so many drug addicts, it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it until you see it. Day after day, we get one overdose after another through the ER doors. We see people as old as 70s and 80s using heroin. Many became addicted after starting on opiates prescribed by their doctor. But eventually the opiates became unavailable.

It seems hard to believe someone would resort to injecting street drugs with dirty needles in an effort to control pain. Well, believe it. It happens all the time. Many people would take a chance on dying to escape the never ending pain.

As bad as it has been, I do believe seeing what I have over the years has saved me. As my chronic pain progressed, I swore that no matter no bad it got, I would NEVER start taking opiates. There is no way I am ever going to let them take hold of me and ruin my life like I have seen it do to so many others.

[Kratom] could help so many people live better lives. For some, it could even be a light at the end of the dark tunnel of drug addiction.

As my pain got worse over the years, I started looking for alternative treatments for my condition. I honestly can’t remember exactly how or where I came across kratom in my research. But in reading about it, I felt like it might be worth a try, as so many swore by it for chronic pain. At that time, I didn’t even realize there was any kind of controversy. It was just another herbal supplement I researched and decided to try.

The relief was significant and immediate, and I felt so much better. It brought my pain down to a reasonable and tolerable level, without making me drowsy or impairing my thinking in any way. Between my job and raising two girls alone, I couldn’t afford to take anything that would alter my thought process or make me sleepy.

Susan Ash and Paul Kemp of the American Kratom Association at the Kratom March on DC Sept 13th.  Hundreds attended, giving a
Susan Ash and Paul Kemp of the American Kratom Association at the Kratom March on DC Sept 13th. Hundreds attended, giving a voice to the thousands of us who will be affected by the proposed scheduling of kratom...

Kratom has never made me feel “high,” and I can’t imagine why anyone thinks that. It helps me think more clearly, just like a cup of coffee does. I guarantee anyone who is under the impression that kratom has any kind of psychoactive effect has never taken it. Honestly, I wish the people who make those kind of claims would just try it once and they would see that it has no negative effect on the thought process whatsoever.

Over the past few years, I have become acquainted with many folks who use kratom for a variety of reasons. Some are recovering addicts who have been able to stop using illicit drugs because kratom took the edge off the withdrawal symptoms. Others are like me and have just found it’s a better option for them than prescription pain medications. I am not sure what I am going to do if kratom becomes illegal. Hopefully, I can get along with the other supplements I take, although I am probably going to have to face the fact that I am going to be in a lot more pain on a daily basis. I am dreading it. I am more worried about some of the others in the community. I am sure some of them will feel they have no choice but to return to taking opiates to control their pain, and it’s going to be devastating.

It’s going to be even worse for those who were able to get off heroin by using kratom. The only hope they have is being taken from them, and without kratom they may not be able to stay clean. These are good people, people who have hit rock bottom and had the strength to claw their way out of it and get clean and go on to be productive citizens again. But this might be too much for some of them. They are taking away the very thing that helped them get better and saved their lives. I have no doubt people are going to die because of this.

As for kratom being “addictive,” I honestly don’t buy it from my own experience. I take it on a regular basis, and if I don’t take it, I have no problems other than my feet start hurting again. I don’t have any other problems. My pain levels just return back up to what they were before I started taking it. It’s just miserable. I dread the thought of trying to get through the day hurting so bad 24/7. However, there’s nothing else that I am willing to take that will help the pain.

I don’t want to end up on disability. I don’t want to become a shell of the person I could be.

Banning kratom is a step in the wrong direction. It could help so many people live better lives. We should be encouraging people who could benefit from it to use it, not taking away that opportunity. For some, it could even be a light at the end of the dark tunnel of drug addiction. I am not convinced that there is any danger whatsoever in taking kratom regularly for pain control. And even if there were a proven risk, I would be willing to accept it. I am all for regulation. I don’t believe it should be available to children under 18. I think there should be penalties for those who attempt to make medical claims, just as there are for any other supplements.

Kratom should only be available in its natural form, as a dried leaf to be taken by mouth or as a tea. Greedy retailers have been marketing kratom in extract form as a “legal high” with names like Vivazen and Tramasol. But those who buy it hoping to get a quick buzz are going to be disappointed. Those are the people who try it once or twice and realize they are wasting their money.

If I could ask the powers that be at the DEA one question it would be this: “What do you suggest we do now?” You say opiates are bad. I agree. But what about those of us who suffer chronic pain on a daily basis? What options will be available to us? Especially if we find becoming addicted to prescription pain meds an unacceptable alternative? Should we just suck it up and deal with the pain?

So far, kratom has helped me continue to work. I even feel good enough to take my daughters places. It helps me be a better nurse and a better mother. I don’t WANT to end up on disability. I don’t want to become a shell of the person I could be. Kratom has changed my life, and it could change so many more.