MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WRIC) — Jeremiah Thate strums his guitar and soulfully sings the words of a favorite song. He has not been clean for that long but says he is already seeing his life and purpose clearly.
“My ability to step forward and find a solution for it is really what aids me in wanting to talk about this because I felt hopeless,” he remembers. “I felt like there was no ability to step out of it.”
Thate started using opioids recreationally in 2004 and battled a full-blown addiction by 2011.
He went to treatment and was sober when someone told him about kratom, an herbal supplement sold in the form of leaves, powder, capsules and extracts.
It is often marketed as a pain reliever and is sold at stores specializing in drug paraphernalia and gas stations.
“It was just like that. It was a couple days of using it, and it was, there was a complete dependency on it, mentally and physically,” he recalls. “It was very, very similar to opiates. It made everything else feel a little better at the time.”
However, along with the highs from kratom, Thate says the extreme lows were evident too. To prevent the effects of withdrawal, Thate needed more and more kratom.
“Even though you know you shouldn’t take it again or take it continuously, you will continue to want to take it,” Thate describes. “It’s almost uncontrollable and not worth it.”
The potentially addictive qualities of kratom were behind a February warning by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the time, it linked the substance to 44 deaths.
According to a news release, this week the FDA also “issued warning letters to three marketers and distributors of kratom products – Front Range Kratom of Aurora, Colorado; Kratom Spot of Irvine, California and Revibe, Inc., of Kansas City, Missouri – for illegally selling unapproved kratom-containing drug products with unproven claims about their ability to help in the treatment of opioid addiction and withdrawal. The companies also make claims about treating pain, as well as other medical conditions like lowering blood pressure, treating cancer and reducing neuron damage caused by strokes.”
“Despite our warnings that no kratom product is safe, we continue to find companies selling kratom and doing so with deceptive medical claims for which there’s no reliable scientific proof to support their use,” says FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, in a statement.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it would ban the plant by adding it to a list of illegal drugs that includes marijuana, heroin and LSD. It backed away from the plan months later, though, after a flood of public support for kratom as a solution to the opioid crisis.
Still, more than a half dozen states have banned kratom at some level; It is legal in Virginia.
“I was really ashamed about being physically dependent on it, you know,” Thate says. “And I didn’t really want to tell anybody about it. And so it kinda perpetuated this cycle of deceit from those that I loved and those that supported me, and I started praying about it. God led me in the right direction.”
Thate leaned on his faith to fight the fix of kratom. It is one he wishes he never tried.
“It was a bad decision,” he says. “It was a bad choice. I see that now. It’s dangerous. It’s highly addictive.”