Efforts Underway in NJ to Prevent New Drug Craze
It has been around for years and can easily be bought in New Jersey tobacco shops, gas stations and on the internet. Kratom - an organic herb which grows naturally in Southeast Asia - is quickly becoming a "go-to'" drug for young people because of its opioid-like effects.
The drug can cause hallucinations, delusions and respiratory problems.
Kratom has been around for centuries and has been used to alleviate pain, boost energy and reduce anxiety, but it is not approved in the United States for any medical use. Kratom can be bought in leaf form, but is usually purchased as a capsule or chopped up and used for smoking or tea. Studies show it can be addictive and can result in severe withdrawl symptoms. Other side effects include agitation, aggression, tremors, nausea and vomiting. It is illegal in Tennessee and has been banned in Australia, Malaysia and Thailand.
"Just like most emerging drugs, kratom has the effects that kids are looking for. In some cases it makes them mellow, in some cases, they think it's a safe alternative. The depressant and euphoric effects that they get out of kratom are very much like heroin and other opioids," said Ezra Helfend, acting director of the Middlesex County chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "It is a drug that many of us in the drug prevention field are watching, just like synthetic marijuana. There is a concern because there seems to be issues with what is being sold in stores and with the number of kids who are getting their hands on it. Children have access to these products and we would prefer that they didn't."
In an effort to prevent another drug crisis like the heroin epidemic in Monmouth and Ocean counties, Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Jackson will introduce legislation next month that would make kratom illegal in New Jersey.
"There is no doubt, kratom is a dangerous substance. Like we did with bath salts and spice, we need to crack down on it now before we're faced with another drug epidemic," he said.
Dancer's bill would criminalize the manufacture, possession and sale of products containing kratom. It would amend state law to include kratom as a controlled dangerous substance. Violators would face prison terms ranging from 18 months to 10 years and fines of up to $150,000 depending on the severity of the violation.